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Completion of Recommended Tests and Referrals in Telehealth vs In-Person Visits.

Zhong A, Amat MJ, Anderson TS, Shafiq U, Sternberg SB, Salant T, Fernandez L, Schiff GD, Aronson MD, Benneyan JC, Singer SJ, Phillips RS. Completion of Recommended Tests and Referrals in Telehealth vs In-Person Visits. JAMA Network Open. 2023 Nov 1; 6(11):e2343417.

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IMPORTANCE: Use of telehealth has increased substantially in recent years. However, little is known about whether the likelihood of completing recommended tests and specialty referrals-termed diagnostic loop closure-is associated with visit modality. OBJECTIVES: To examine the prevalence of diagnostic loop closure for tests and referrals ordered at telehealth visits vs in-person visits and identify associated factors. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: In a retrospective cohort study, all patient visits from March 1, 2020, to December 31, 2021, at 1 large urban hospital-based primary care practice and 1 affiliated community health center in Boston, Massachusetts, were evaluated. MAIN MEASURES: Prevalence of diagnostic loop closure for (1) colonoscopy referrals (screening and diagnostic), (2) dermatology referrals for suspicious skin lesions, and (3) cardiac stress tests. RESULTS: The study included test and referral orders for 4133 patients (mean [SD] age, 59.3 [11.7] years; 2163 [52.3%] women; 203 [4.9%] Asian, 1146 [27.7%] Black, 2362 [57.1%] White, and 422 [10.2%] unknown or other race). A total of 1151 of the 4133 orders (27.8%) were placed during a telehealth visit. Of the telehealth orders, 42.6% were completed within the designated time frame vs 58.4% of those ordered during in-person visits and 57.4% of those ordered without a visit. In an adjusted analysis, patients with telehealth visits were less likely to close the loop for all test types compared with those with in-person visits (odds ratio, 0.55; 95% CI, 0.47-0.64). CONCLUSIONS: The findings of this study suggest that rates of loop closure were low for all test types across all visit modalities but worse for telehealth. Failure to close diagnostic loops presents a patient safety challenge in primary care that may be of particular concern during telehealth encounters.

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