Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…
The popularity of telemedicine has soared among Minnesotans in the past decade, with urban dwellers seeking the convenience of routine care online and rural residents videochatting with distant doctors for everything from prescription refills to psychiatric sessions to cancer consults.
A first-of-its-kind report used a Minnesota database of health insurance claims and found that the number of telemedicine visits increased sevenfold from 2010 to 2015. The study is part of a special edition of the influential journal Health Affairs that assesses the national impact of telemedicine — a broad term to describe billable patient care that isn’t provided face to face, including online queries and videoconferencing.
There is a difference in how telehealth is happening in rural and urban areas…
Most of the increase was in virtual visits by privately insured patients in metro areas, who used online portals such as VirtuWell to receive routine care for sore throats and skin rashes.
Such visits accounted for only 20 percent of the 11,113 telemedicine visits in Minnesota in 2010, but 60 percent of the 86,238 visits in 2015.
Patients in rural areas used telemedicine more to connect with doctors in other communities — either to avoid long drives for routine checkups or to get second opinions from specialists, the data showed.
Duluth-based Essentia Health has videoconferencing in every one of its clinics in northern Minnesota. Patients in International Falls, for example, can connect remotely with doctors in seven different specialties, including psychiatry and cardiology.
And there’s room for growth…
Telemedicine accounts for less than 1 percent of all patient care visits, but the local study suggests continued growth. Abraham noted that her research did not assess the effectiveness of virtual vs. in-person visits, just the numbers of them.