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Telehealth Usage Rises With Increase of COVID-19 Cases

Analysis  |  By Mandy Roth  
   January 07, 2021

FAIR Health reports more people returning to telehealth in October; communicable diseases now among top five diagnoses for private insurance telehealth claims.

As the nation began experiencing an uptick in COVID-19 cases this fall, a similar upswing occurred in the use of telehealth, according to the latest report from FAIR Health, an independent, nonprofit organization, which tracks commercial insurance claims as part of a healthcare cost transparency initiative.

Compared to one year ago, October usage of telehealth increased by 3,060%, comprising 5.61% of all "claim lines" processed by the payers the organization tracks, compared to 0.18% the previous October. In September 2020, telehealth comprised 5.07% of all claim lines. FAIR Health defines claim lines as an individual service or procedure listed on an insurance claim.

October also demonstrated a shift in the primary reasons people use telehealth. The organization's free Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker indicates exposure to communicable diseases was now among the top five telehealth diagnoses nationally and in each region tracked. FAIR Health attributes this dynamic as "related to the surge in COVID-19 cases in October, as patients contacted providers via telehealth out of concern they had been exposed to COVID-19." Mental health conditions were the primary reason patient used telehealth services in October, totaling 51.81% of visits.

Usage of telehealth has increased significantly in 2020 since the pandemic began impacting the U.S. last March. Usage peaked during April when it comprised 13% of commercial insurance claims.

"In March and April 2020, many states prohibited in-person rendering of elective procedures, making telehealth a viable alternative," FAIR Health said in a news release. As states began to open up in May, "many of these prohibitions expired."  

While telehealth usage decline over the summer, it remains high compared to 2019, due to the pandemic, FAIR Health reports. "The rise of telehealth usage in October may have been related to the increase in COVID-19 cases that month, as the pandemic rose to new highs at the time."

Monthly telehealth usage trends reported by the organization compared to the previous year include:

  • 0.24% of January 2020 claims, compared to 0.17% in January 2019
  • 0.38% of February 2020 claims, compared to 0.17% in February 2019
  • 7.52% of March 2020 claims, compared to 0.17% in March 2019
  • 13.00% of April 2020 claims, compared to 0.15% in April 2019
  • 8.69% of May 2020 claims, compared to 0.15% in May 2019
  • 6.85% of June 2020 claims, compared to 0.16% in June 2019
  • 6.00% of July 2020 claims, compared to 0.15% in July 2019
  • 6.07% of August 2020 claims, compared to 0.17% in August 2019
  • 5.07% of September 2020 claims, compared to 0.16% in September 2019
  • 5.61% of October 2020 claims, compared to 0.18% in October 2019

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.


Telehealth usage in October increased by more than 3,000% compared to 2019.

Since the pandemic began, telehealth usage has ranged from 5.07% to 13% of private insurance claims.

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