Editor’s Desk

AHRQ says telehealth evidence strongest for chronic conditions, psychotherapy

Peter Wehrwein

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has come out with a review of the telehealth research that is more thorough than surprising.

The agency’s researchers concluded in a technical brief that the evidence for telehealth having benefits is strongest in three areas: remote monitoring of patients with chronic conditions, communication and counseling of people with chronic conditions, and psychotherapy as part of behavioral health.

This kind of research—a review of the reviews—can show that conventional wisdom is more conventional than wise. But in this case, it affirms rather than toppled expectations.

In those three areas, the AHRQ researchers suggested that research should pivot away from efficacy to scoping out ways that telehealth could be better implemented and barriers to its wider use removed.

Other areas were found wanting, however.  The evidence for using telehealth for triage of urgent and primary care, managing serious pediatric conditions, integration of mental and physical health, and teledermatology all got a grade of C in the AHRQ technical brief.

For those hoping/hyping that telehealth is a silver bullet of cost-effective health care, some caution might be warranted.

“The evidence on costs is limited and does not correspond to the importance of this issue,” AHRQ warns.

The researchers identified four reviews that found telehealth provides a cost or utilization benefit and 11 that found a potential benefit. Less rosy were 10 that were deemed inconclusive and seven that found no benefit or an increase in cost and utilization.