A surprising new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) is sure to spark plenty of debate between critics and proponents of telehealth. The study shows that, based on standard HEDIS measurements, telemedicine visits are superior to traditional in-person visits.

For the record, telehealth is defined as that collection of technologies and services that make telemedicine possible. Telemedicine is the actual delivery of healthcare services remotely. The study in question looked more at how patients rated their telemedicine experiences according to Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Sent (HEDIS) standards.

What HEDIS Measures

The HEDIS standard is a widely used standard for measuring performance within the healthcare sector. Its purpose is to allow patients to grade how well their health plans perform. Data is compared against similar regional and national health plans to determine overall performance.

HEDIS has been expanded to measure other performance factors within healthcare. It includes ninety measurements that are divided into six primary categories:

  • Care effectiveness
  • Care access and availability
  • Patient care experience
  • Resource utilization
  • Descriptive health plan information
  • Health plan data collection.

HEDIS patient information is normally gathered through the use of surveys, insurance claims, and medical records. Data is compiled and analyzed against similar data from other health systems to measure comparative performance.

Superior in Most Areas

Getting back to the JAMA study, it was conducted among 526,000 patients who received care in Pennsylvania through Wellspan Health during an 18-month period ending on November 30, 2021. Of the sixteen quality performance measures included in the study, telehealth was rated superior for eleven of them.

Telehealth performed better in relation to counseling and consultation, testing, screening, and vaccinations, among other things. Obviously, patients cannot receive vaccinations through a telehealth solution. Same with testing.

Screenings and consultations are possible via technologies like the CSI Health remote medical kiosk. CSI Health, out of San Antonio, TX (https://csihealth.net/), designs and manufactures telemedicine solutions that include on-board diagnostic capabilities.

More Frequent, More Efficient

The JAMA study does not explain why telehealth outperformed traditional healthcare in so many areas. However, the researchers suggested it could be a matter of efficiency and frequency.

Telemedicine visits are more efficient by default. Not having to commute to and from the doctor’s office is more efficient for patients. It keeps them out of waiting rooms to boot. Office efficiency is also greater because doctors do not have to move from exam room to exam room. Meanwhile, their office staff isn’t having to process patients as they come and go.

With greater efficiency comes the opportunity to visit with patients more often. The thinking is that the combination of both makes for a better patient experience. When patients feel better about their experiences, they are more likely to give higher marks for HEDIS measures.

If They Want It

The study will undoubtedly be debated vigorously among telehealth proponents and critics. The two sides will debate issues like quality of care and safety. Will they spend any time debating whether patients want it? Will there be any debate over whether patients should be given what they want?

Our private sector model demands that healthcare be treated as a business venture in addition to an altruistic way to help people improve their health. If you take the business side away from the equation, you are not looking at the entire picture.

It is clear from the study that patients are happy with telemedicine. If that makes them more likely to utilize it rather than in-office visits, taking it away doesn’t make much sense – for them or their doctors.