What You Should Know:
– Telehealth claim lines increased 4,347 percent nationally from 0.17 percent of medical claim lines in March 2019 to 7.52 percent in March 2020, according to new data from FAIR Health’s Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker.
– The data represent the privately insured population, excluding Medicare and Medicaid. In an indication that the growth was related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the increase was even greater in the Northeast, where the pandemic hit hardest in March.
Telehealth had already been growing in recent years, but even faster growth has been predicted as a result of COVID-19. Telehealth permits healthcare services to be delivered without in-person contact, reducing the risk of disease transmission and frees up in-person healthcare resources for COVID-19 patients. In addition, with fewer elective procedures occurring around the country due to widespread restrictions, the telehealth share of total medical claim lines was expected to increase.
Telehealth growth from February 2019 to February 2020, before the rapid escalation of the pandemic in the United States, was substantially lower. Nationally, the increase as a percentage of medical claim lines in that period was 121 percent; in the Northeast, it was 174 percent. Telehealth grew markedly from March 2019 to March 2020 in other US census regions, but not as much as in the Northeast. In the West, the increase as a percentage of medical claim lines was 1,986 percent; in the Midwest, 2,842 percent; and in the South, 3,427 percent.
Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker
Launched in May as a free service, the Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker uses FAIR Health data to track how telehealth is evolving on a monthly basis. An interactive map of the four US census regions allows the user to view an infographic on telehealth in a specific month in each region, or in the nation as a whole. In addition to data on the volume of claim lines and the top five diagnoses, each infographic includes findings on urban vs. rural usage and the top five procedure codes.
Other notable findings of the Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker concern diagnoses. From March 2019 to March 2020, acute respiratory diseases and infections decreased as a percentage of telehealth claim lines nationally and in all regions except the West. In March, there is typically a drop from February in acute respiratory diagnoses as a result of the seasonality of influenza, but this drop from March to March may indicate that many people with acute respiratory symptoms, fearing they had COVID-19, preferred this year to see a physician in person.
Hypertension: Top 5 Telehealth Diagnoses
Nationally, hypertension was one of the top five telehealth diagnoses in March 2020 whereas it was not in March 2019 or in February 2020. Increased issues with blood pressure for people with hypertension may be related to increased stress during the pandemic. Another factor may be increased telemonitoring of patients with hypertension so they do not need to go into the physician’s office to be monitored.