Why Do Patients Choose Telemedicine for Primary Care? The Untapped Potential of Telemedicine for Primary Care

Significance and Potential Impact:

This research will provide evidence to inform emerging telehealth policies including reimbursement, technology adoption decisions, and real-world use by patients and providers.

Why do patients choose telemedicine as an alternative to an in-person primary care visit?

Telemedicine has long been used to provide access to specialty care, especially for patients living in rural areas, but its use to benefit primary care patients is less understood. In addition, little is known about its impact on quality and safety, such as on diagnoses, medications, or patient monitoring.

“As a health services researcher, this was an exciting opportunity to research technology and how it affects patients’ choices, what kinds of clinical concerns patients choose telemedicine for, and what its best uses are for in primary care.”
- Dr. Mary Reed

In 2016, Kaiser Permanente Northern California began offering patient-initiated primary care telemedicine visits. All patients self-scheduling appointments with a primary care provider through their patient portal were able to choose from a traditional in-person visit or a telemedicine visit conducted by video or telephone. Mary Reed, DrPH, from the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research, wants to know who chooses telemedicine and for what health issues. Dr. Reed and her team are prospectively comparing outcomes for patients who choose telemedicine versus an in-person primary care visit from 2016 to 2020. The research team will compare patient demographics, their reported experiences, and clinical characteristics, with the goal of identifying patterns or reasons why patients choose telemedicine versus an in-person visit. In addition, the team will evaluate whether telemedicine affects the safety and quality of primary care by examining recommended health care processes, in-person followup care, and increased ED visits and hospital admissions between those who choose telemedicine visits compared with those who choose an in-person visit.

Research Details

Principal Investigator: