Telehealth has experienced explosive growth during the coronavirus pandemic, with telehealth claims lines increasing 3,552% from August 2019 to August 2020, according to FAIR Health.
There has been unprecedented year-over-year growth in telehealth insurance claims, and the growth was sustained from July to August, according to FAIR Health's Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker.
In March, when the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States, telehealth visits increased 50%, according to Frost and Sullivan. With in-person medical visits associated with the risk of coronavirus infection, virtual visits emerged as a safe and effective way for patients to meet with their doctors in many circumstances.
FAIR Health's Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker, which was launched as a free service in May, follows telehealth insurance claims lines for commercial payers across the country. The data accounts for about 75% of commercially insured claims.
The August data includes several key data points:
- Nationally, telehealth claims lines increased 3,552% from August 2019 to August 2020, increasing from 0.17% of medical claims lines in August 2019 to 6.07% in August 2020.
- From July to August 2020, telehealth claims lines were relatively stable, increasing 1.2% from 6.00% of medical claims lines in July to 6.07% in August.
- All four regions of the country followed by the telehealth tracker—Midwest, Northeast, South and West—experienced large year-over-year increases in volume of telehealth claims lines from August 2019 to August 2020.
- Mental health conditions—the top telehealth diagnosis since March 2020—increased as a share of all telehealth diagnoses from July to August, rising from 45.39% to 48.93%.
- Respiratory diseases were the fourth most common telehealth diagnosis in August 2020 at 2.32%. In August 2019, respiratory diseases accounted for 17.63% of telehealth diagnoses, with the year-over-year decrease linked to the diversity of other diagnoses that became more common in telehealth due to the pandemic.
Interpreting the data
The telehealth tracker has documented utilization trends for telemedicine during the pandemic, FAIR Health President Robin Gelburd, JD, told HealthLeaders.
"Beginning in March, there was a great increase in telehealth claim lines as a percentage of all medical claim lines in 2020 nationally and in every region compared to the same months in 2019. April 2020 showed even more growth than March 2020. From April to July, there was a relatively small month-to-month decline. August showed signs of stabilization," she says.
Mental health conditions are a common telehealth diagnosis that has become more prevalent during the pandemic, Gelburd says.
"We can say that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health was a prominent area of telehealth, but mental health conditions have continued to rise as a share of all telehealth diagnoses throughout the pandemic. The increase may be due to stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic or by the fact that, as patients begin to return to medical offices and facilities for non-emergent care, mental health diagnoses constitute a larger proportion of the telehealth diagnoses," she says.
Telehealth has been used for a wider variety of conditions throughout the pandemic, Gelburd says. "For example, hypertension became one of the top five telehealth diagnoses nationally in March 2020 whereas it was not in March 2019 or in February 2020. In the Midwest, diabetes mellitus appeared as one of the top five diagnoses in April 2020, a position it had not occupied in April 2019. In May 2020, developmental disorders ranked among the top five telehealth diagnoses in all regions and nationally; whereas, in May 2019, it was not in the top five in any region."
Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care editor at HealthLeaders.
Telehealth increased from 0.17% of medical claims lines in August 2019 to 6.07% in August 2020.
From July to August 2020, telehealth claims lines were relatively stable, increasing 1.2% from 6.00% of medical claims lines in July to 6.07% in August.
Mental health conditions—the top telehealth diagnosis since March 2020—increased as a share of all telehealth diagnoses from July to August, rising from 45.39% to 48.93%.