Study: Telemedicine service may expand access to acute medical care

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(AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Young, affluent people without health insurance are more likely to use a telemedicine program that allows patients to get medical help — including prescriptions — by talking to a doctor over the phone, according to a study released today by Santa Monica-based RAND Corp.

Patients who used the service suffered from a wide assortment of acute medical problems such as respiratory illnesses and skin problems, and researchers found little evidence of misdiagnosis, the study found.

The findings, published in the February edition of the journal Health Affairs, are from the first assessment of a telemedicine program offered to a large, diverse group of patients across the United States.

“Telemedicine services such as the one we studied that directly links physicians and patients via telephone or Internet have the potential to expand access to care and lower costs,” said Lori Uscher-Pines, lead author of the study and a policy researcher at RAND.

“However, little is known about how these services are being used and whether they provide good quality care,” she said. “Our study provides a first step to better understand this growing health care trend.”

Interest has grown in telemedicine programs because of the shortage of primary care physicians, which will likely worsen as more Americans acquire medical coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Telemedicine is one alternative touted as a way to provide primary health care without greatly expanding the number of doctors.

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