Background: Expansion of telehealth insurance coverage is hampered by concerns that such coverage may encourage excessive use and spending.
Objective: The aim of this paper is to examine whether users of telehealth services rely more on other forms of outpatient care than nonusers, and to estimate the differences in payment rates.
Methods: We examined claims data from a large national insurer in 2017. We limited our analysis to patients with visits for 3 common diagnoses (N=660,546). We calculated the total number of visits per patient, overall, and by setting, and adjusted for patient- and county-level factors.
Results: After multivariable adjustment, telehealth-visit users, compared to nonusers, had 0.44 fewer visits to primary care, 0.11 fewer visits to emergency departments, and 0.17 fewer visits to retail and urgent care. All estimates are statistically significant at P<.001. Average payment rates for telehealth visits were lower than all other settings.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that telehealth visits may substitute rather than add to in-person care for some types of care. Our study suggests that telehealth visits may offer an efficient and less costly alternative.