A rapid increase in "virtual" visits during the COVID-19 pandemic could transform the way physicians provide care in the United States going forward, according to a new study led by researchers from NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
The findings, published online this week in the Journal of the American Informatics Association, captures the largest experience to date of the speed, scale and rapid expansion of video-enabled visits by patients and providers in varied and diverse settings. Specifically, between March 2 and April 14, 2020, virtual urgent care visits at NYU Langone Health grew by 683 percent and non-urgent virtual care visits grew by an unprecedented 4,345 percent in response to COVID-19, in daily averages.
Also participating in the study were researchers from NYU Tandon School of Engineering and NYU School of Global Public Health.
"The pandemic created an urgent need to divert patients from in-patient care and prevent the flooding of our emergency rooms beyond capacity," said Devin Mann, MD, associate professor in the Departments of Population Health and Medicine and senior director for Informatics Innovation and Medical Center Information Technology at NYU Langone Health, and the study's lead author. "Through telemedicine, we pushed the frontlines to locations far from our hospitals and doctor's offices. And because NYU Langone invested early in this technology, we quickly leveraged digital health to help hundreds of thousands of patients."
In recent years, telemedicine's growth has been incremental, utilized by only eight percent of Americans in 2019, according to the researchers. Outside of rural medicine and prior to COVID-19, there were few compelling reasons to replace in-person care. In order to facilitate the rapid expansion in telemedicine captured in this study, U.S. insurers expanded coverage to include all telemedicine visit types, including from home, and states relaxed licensing requirements so that care can be delivered across state lines. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services allowed the use of consumer audio and video communication for telemedicine visits.
Responding to a Pandemic: Study Findings
Using NYU Langone's enterprise electronic health record system Epic, the researchers captured COVID-related visits using diagnostic codes containing relevant respiratory issues and matched them with keywords describing symptoms including fever, shortness of breath, cough, and more.