Telehealth interventions had similar outcomes to in-person care for different services and populations, but did not consistently impact utilization such as physician or emergency department visits.
The use of telehealth has expanded over the last few years and it is often credited for increasing efficiency and filling the gap on barriers of access to care. It is difficult, however, to judge telehealth’s efficacy broadly, as related outcomes vary depending on clinical area and patient population. This analysis of systematic reviews and meta-analyses examined telehealth interventions in a range of areas, including mental health, telerehabilitation, and teleconsultation.
Telehealth was found to be equivalent to in-person care in most cases. An analysis of eight systemic reviews showed that telehealth for mental health, including for assessment and treatment, yielded similar patient outcomes as in-person care. Similarly, telerehabilitation interventions generally led to care outcomes similar to in-person care. Telephone consultations had mixed evidence for impact on overall utilization of care. These findings suggest that telehealth may improve access to care for some patient populations, especially those who are unable to access in-person providers due to limited transportation, provider shortages, or a rural environment.
Telehealth is generally comparable to in-person care, but many variables need to be considered before considering it a one-size-fits-all intervention. These include modality, evidence quality, population demographics, and point-in-time measurement of outcomes. This study does not specifically focus on populations with complex needs, but rather shows the overall landscape, which may be valuable to inform interventions for people with complex needs..