An acutely ill patient logged in to MedStar Health's telehealth platform in April 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic severely limited in-person visits.
The uninsured man was worried about the cost of going to the emergency department and occupying valuable space. After some reassurance, MedStar Health clinicians convinced him to go to the ED, where he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and sent to the intensive care unit.
He survived, in part, thanks to the virtual consultation, said Dr. Ethan Booker, the medical director of the MedStar Telehealth Innovation Center and MedStar eVisit.
"If it wasn't for telehealth, there's a good chance he would've done nothing and could've died," he said. "More patients are using a telehealth visit to navigate the system, starting with us to see if it's appropriate to seek in-person care."
Telehealth's value in scenarios like those where other pathways are blocked is undeniable. But its convenience has also raised questions as to whether it's layering extra encounters between patients and providers and leading to unnecessary treatment.
More than 30% of telehealth visits resulted in a physical office visit, according to a new survey from the commercial real estate firm JLL that polled more than 4,000 individuals in January. That was much higher than MedStar Health's referral rate of less than 15%, Booker said, echoing other experts' observations. Notably, the survey didn't specify if it was a new or returning patient, nor what type of treatment patients were seeking, researchers said.
Regardless, those referral patterns have increased demand for medical office space, said Jay Johnson, managing director of JLL Healthcare.