Source: mHealth Intelligence
New data reveal a 13 percent rise in telehealth use during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, but usage has since dropped as surges slowed.
Though telehealth is still on the rise, new data from the Peterson- KFF Health System Tracker revealed how the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic might affect outpatient visit preferences.
As the COVID-19 pandemic became more prominent in mid-2020, the government increased access to telehealth, removing regulatory barriers and reforming payment policies. The motive behind this choice was to limit exposure to the deadly disease and maintain pandemic safety protocols.
The new brief contains data regarding telehealth use between March 2019 and August 2021, which shows trends before and during certain stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The analyzed data came from Epic Cosmos, a HIPAA-defined limited data set of over 126 million patients. Although telehealth use has decreased since the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is sustaining a relatively high utilization rate compared to 2019.
Before the pandemic, telehealth comprised less than 1 percent of outpatient visits. But, during the early stages of the pandemic, this rose to 13 percent, followed by a drop to 8 percent in 2021. This upward trend in telehealth use resulted in a 19 percent increase in general outpatient visits between 2019 and 2021.
There was also a correlation between age and the rate of telehealth use. Researchers found that outpatient visits conducted through telehealth were the highest among children, followed by adults, and then by the elderly. Among these age groups, the percentage of visits through telehealth were 18 percent, 14 percent, and 10 percent, respectively.
When analyzing data that compared telehealth use between rural and urban residents as well as men and women, there were no significant differences found. Among patients with chronic conditions, the use of telehealth was most prominent between March and August of 2020 and has since declined by over ten percent in 2021. However, it remains higher than usage rates in 2019.
Although there are still unresolved factors such as access, cost, and quality, the increased use of telehealth can provide outpatients with novel services and treatment. Regardless of the status of the COVID-19 pandemic, some patients find telehealth to be easier and more efficient. These include rural residents who often do not have convenient access to a provider.
Further, the highest rates of telehealth use relate to mental health and substance use services.
A recent study explained the benefits that patients with mental health conditions experienced through telemedicine. Researchers found that more than one telemental approach was applicable and that patients took a liking to them.
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