Study Assesses How Telehealth Affects Doctors’ Prescribing Habits

May 28, 2015 in News

Doctors treating patients via telehealth were just as likely to prescribe antibiotics as physicians seeing patients in-person, but telehealth providers were more likely to prescribe costly broad-spectrum drugs, according to a study published Tuesday in JAMA Internal Medicine, mHealthNews reports.

Details of Study

For the study, RAND Corporation researchers compared patients in California who were treated for acute respiratory infection between April 2012 and October 2013.

About 1,700 patients had phone or video consultations through Teladoc, while about 64,000 patients had face-to-face visits with physicians.

The California HealthCare Foundation supported the study. CHCF publishes iHealthBeat (Wicklund, mHealthNews, 5/27).

Study Findings

The study found that patients who received consultations via Teladoc were prescribed antibiotics about 58% of the time, compared with about 55% of the time for those who had in-person appointments.

According to the researchers, studies have shown that antibiotics for acute respiratory infections are not clinically necessary in about 50% of all outpatient prescriptions for such drugs (Ross Johnson, Modern Healthcare, 5/27).

However, they found that “the antibiotics prescribed during telemedicine visits raised some specific quality concerns that require further attention” (mHealthNews, 5/27).

Specifically, researchers found that physicians providing treatment through Teladoc prescribed broad-spectrum drugs 86% of the time they prescribed antibiotics, compared with 56% of the time for doctors who treated patients face-to-face (Modern Healthcare, 5/27).

The researchers said that broad-spectrum antibiotics typically are used in larger quantities than more-targeted drugs because they do not treat diseases as effectively or quickly. They said that could lead to antibiotic resistance, overuse and waste.

In a release, the researchers said, “The results suggest that telemedicine providers should consider quality-improvement initiatives to change physicians’ behavior, as well as direct education to patients to influence demand for unnecessary antibiotics” (mHealthNews, 5/27).

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