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Telehealth Usage Drops But Still Fills Vital Role for Many

Posted by Mike Rigert on Jul 19, 2021 8:30:00 AM

Despite the utility and convenience of telehealth visits for patients during the COVID pandemic, a new report shows that its use declined for the third straight month in April.

According to Fair Health’s Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker, telehealth usage dropped 12.5 percent nationally as a percentage of medical claim lines, from 5.6 percent of claim lines in March 2021 to 4.9 percent in April. Overall telehealth visits have decreased as much as 37 percent since the height of the pandemic in some states, according to data from Trilliant Health.

The report also shed some light on the top five reasons for telehealth visits in April, which included:

  • Mental health conditions (51.3 percent)
  • Developmental disorders (3 percent)
  • Joint and soft tissue diseases and issues (2.7 percent)
  • Acute respiratory diseases and infections (2.5 percent)
  • General symptoms (1.5 percent)

Though telehealth usage is trending downward, virtual care visits for mental health conditions continue to rise nationally and in every region. Mental health claims increased from 57 percent in March 2021 to 58.6 percent in April.

However, this decline in telehealth usage doesn’t really come as too much of a surprise since it was anticipated patients would return to in-person visits once the danger of the pandemic largely passed. As vaccination totals continue to climb and society opens up, patients feel safer seeing their healthcare provider in person.

Yet this doesn’t mean telehealth—a convenient alternative to making a trip to the doctor’s office—is going away any time. Virtual health companies continue to make sizable investments in telehealth to the tune of $4.2 billion—an all-time high—in the first quarter of 2021.

But the real proof in the pudding as to the long-term viability of telehealth will likely hinge on whether Congress and federal regulators act to expand Medicare coverage for telehealth visits passed the current pandemic. Absent that, providers will likely be less willing to offer the service to patients into the future.

Virtual health services like telehealth offer patients the ease, comfort, and convenience of participating in a healthcare visit from their sofa. In many cases, including for rural residents in which travelling long distances to healthcare is unfeasible or patients that need only to have a brief check-in with providers for chronic care management, telehealth has been tremendously beneficial. For providers, the service is often less costly to per visit unit than in-person appointments.

As providers continue to recover from the pandemic, they are finding they need to rethink the appointment workflow, which has become disjointed from frequent disruption and more complex with the addition of telehealth. A more refined appointment workflow supported by a text-first approach to reaching and obtaining patient confirmations can help providers significantly minimize disruptions like no-shows and ensure patients arrive prepared and on time. With a more manageable process, providers can more effectively connect with and support patients at every step in their healthcare journey, whether the visit is virtual or in-person.

To learn more about how you can greatly enhance and improve your currently less-functional appointment process, check out the guide, “The Perfect Appointment Workflow: A Path to Improved Outcomes and Increased Revenue.”

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Mike Rigert

Written by Mike Rigert