E-visits increase appointments made, reduce new patients seen

E-visits allow for patients and providers to come together without the travel or waiting room times, but whether these visits are as effective or have other benefits is unknown. In a study conducted by the Wisconsin School of Business, researchers found e-visits promote more appointments to primary care physicians.

With the introduction of telehealth, e-visits have become more common in receiving primary care. Although these visits reduce travel and wait times, other benefits are not fully explored. This study analyzed data from 140,000 patients from 2008 to 2013 to analyze the effects the implementation of e-visits had on patients and providers.

“Offering e-visits seems like a great way to save time and money by reducing the need for office visits because routine questions or updates could be done via email,” said lead author Hessam Bavafa, Wisconsin School of Business assistant professor of operations and information management. “The problem is that healthcare is much more complicated—patients may overreact to minor symptoms or not be clear enough in describing their situation and that leads to doctors feeling obligated to schedule an office visit. The resulting office visits can eliminate any efficiencies gained from e-visits systems.”

Results found that providers offering e-visits to patients experienced a 6 percent increase in office visits, which added up to an extra 45 minutes per month of time physicians spent on their office visits. However, with the increase in office visits time, physicians saw 15 percent less new patients each month. The quality of care reported between office visits and e-visits were comparable, showing the telehealth service provided high quality care.

“E-visits are just one feature of the online portals being offered by many providers that allow patients to access lab results, medical histories, appointment schedules, and prescriptions,” said Bavafa. “By taking a closer look at how both patients and providers are responding to this new model of service delivery, we can try to make this channel a more effective tool for improving the healthcare system.”