EBRI Issue Brief
The Virtual Impact: An Analysis of Telemedicine and Its Relationship With Other Health Care Services, Enrollee Health, and Costs
COVID-19 significantly altered the delivery of health care in the United States in 2020. Telemedicine was uniquely positioned to help patients get the care they needed if their doctors’ offices were closed or they preferred not to risk exposure. The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) analyzed a database of commercial claims to examine the role telemedicine played during the COVID-19 pandemic. We observe a significant decline in face-to-face services and a significant increase in telemedicine visits at the onset of the pandemic. Key findings include:
- Telemedicine may act as a bridge for patients seeking care for their health needs while their doctor’s offices were closed. In examining patients who had been diagnosed with diabetes, depression, or asthma, we find that patients who had used telemedicine tended to have more of their prescribed drugs on hand (69 percent coverage ratio) compared with patients who did not use telemedicine (61 percent coverage ratio).
- Patients who used telemedicine at least once in 2020 used more in-person services (56) than patients who did not use telemedicine at all in 2020 (34).
- We find that patients who used telemedicine tended to spend more on both inpatient and outpatient services as well as prescription drugs. Patients who used telemedicine spent an average of $2,346 in 2020, compared with $1,310 for patients who did not use telemedicine.
- However, telemedicine does not necessarily induce patients to spend more. Our analysis finds that patients who used telemedicine also used in-person services more frequently compared with patients who did not use telemedicine, and the successful management of chronic conditions can help prevent the onset of more serious illnesses and more costly care in the future.