Joseph Kvedar: Widespread adoption of telehealth still in early phase

Despite lofty forecasts for investment in on-demand healthcare services, Partners HealthCare Vice President for Connected Health Joseph Kvedar believes telemedicine adoption is still very much in its early stages.

In a recent post to his cHealth Blog, Kvedar dissects a pair of recently published studies, saying that despite "pressure" to extend the reach of telemedicine, there's still time to "get it right."

"We can take comfort in the low utilization, and work on educating providers on the pitfalls of the virtual environment," Kvedar says.

For the first study he highlights, which was published in JAMA Internal Medicine last month, researchers determined that the quality of urgent care treatment varies widely among commercial providers of virtual doctor visits. Sixty-seven "fake" patients presented to eight virtual providers with six common acute illnesses, with one in four receiving an incorrect or no diagnosis.   

For the second study he discusses, published online in April in Telemedicine and e-Health, the researchers determined through retrospective analysis that, among other things, remote physicians failed to order as many step tests as office doctors, and that virtual physicians ordered antibiotics for acute bronchitis more often. While Kvedar notes that for the latter actions, remote doctors could have been erring on the side of caution as far as treatments were concerned, the study's authors pointed out that bronchitis is classified as a diagnosis for which antibiotics are "never appropriate."

"It seems that anytime a new tool or technology is introduced, we inevitably apply it broadly, learning as we go that the tool has ideal applications," Kvedar says. "Think about how we reflexively use text messaging, email, voice calls and in-person meetings in the context of our work lives. With time and a thoughtful approach, we'll get there with virtual visits, as well."

To learn more:
- read Kvedar's full post