Study compares in-person, telemedicine prescription rates

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A RAND Corp. study indicates that patients are generally prescribed antibiotic treatments at the same rate for acute respiratory infection for in-person and virtual exams.

In a report Monday, researchers stated that regardless of the exam type, antibiotics were either overly prescribed or inappropriately prescribed. This is consistent with earlier findings that approximately 50 percent of outpatient antibiotics are unnecessary.

Researchers also found that those treated over the phone or over a video call were treated with a broad-spectrum drug. This is a concern regarding the growth of drug-resistant bacteria and its overall increased cost to the patient.

"The pattern of treatment offered to patients who saw a physician face-to-face versus those who spoke with a physician on the telephone was not substantially different," Lori Usher-Pines, lead researcher on this study, said. "However, we found the antibiotics prescribed during telemedicine 'visits' raised some specific quality concerns that require further attention."

The practice of telemedicine is growing in popularity as primary care physician shortages will likely continue, especially with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, according to the study. The researchers investigated approximately 1,700 virtual exams between April 2012 and October 2013 conducted by Teledoc, which focuses on direct patient connectivity.

Researchers also state that broad-spectrum drugs are prescribed more often due to limited diagnostic information that is unavailable outside of a face-to-face visit.

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