- For the first time since Fair Health started tracking monthly telehealth claims, COVID-19 became one of the top five diagnoses in the U.S. in December as cases surged, the nonprofit said in a report released Thursday.
- Overall, telehealth claim lines increased 2,817% year over year, rising from just 0.22% of all medical claim lines in December 2019 to 6.51% in December 2020.
- Mental health conditions continue to be the No. 1 telehealth diagnosis nationwide.
Spurred by the pandemic, the use of telehealth absolutely snowballed in 2020, dipping slightly in the back half of the year as state and local governments eased initial coronavirus shutdowns and in-person visits returned. Still, the telehealth share of medical claim lines ticked up from November to December, rising 8.3% nationally on a month-to-month basis and suggesting the lasting power of the delivery method, Fair Health found.
Each of the four U.S. census regions saw large percentage increases in the volume of telehealth claim lines compared to 2019, and a similar small rise compared to November except the Midwest, which saw a 0.3% decrease in the volume of claim lines. Fair Health's data represents the privately insured population, excluding Medicare and Medicaid.
The prominence of COVID-19 as the reason for a virtual visit likely reflects a rise in COVID-19 cases in tandem with a drop in telehealth visits for other conditions including the flu. This has been an unusually weak flu season, likely a side effect of public health precautions.
Following months of social isolation and stress exacerbating conditions like depression and anxiety, mental health conditions continue to be the primary reason for telehealth visits, Fair Health found.
Exposure to communicable diseases continues to be the second most common telehealth diagnosis, likely deriving from patients contacting physicians worried about potentially being exposed to the highly contagious coronavirus.
There was no change in the top five procedure codes by utilization nationally or by region from November to December, despite changes in previous months. Fair Health said this was notable as it suggests the types of telehealth visits being performed might have stabilized, with the most common being an established patient visit and the second most common an hour-long psychotherapy session.
Despite the popularity of digitally delivered care, the future of telehealth as a modality is still in flux amid shifting regulations from Washington and potential changes in consumer demand and payer reimbursement as the pandemic abates.