- Telehealth use fell 76% from 2020 to 2021, according to nonprofit Fair Health’s sixth annual healthcare indicators and medical price index. This year’s report also revealed that retail clinic utilization increased 51% nationally during the same period.
- The decline in telehealth use corresponds with a 14% increase in urgent care center visits along with a 7% decrease in ambulatory surgery centers and a 15% decrease in emergency room visits during the same time period, researchers found.
- However, despite a drop following the height of the pandemic in 2020, telehealth use grew by over 7,000% in 2020 compared to 2019.
Although telehealth use declined overall compared to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual visits still comprised the highest percentage of medical claim lines in 2021. Telehealth visits accounted for 3.7% of all medical claim lines nationally compared with 1.8% for emergency rooms, 1.5% for urgent care centers, 0.6% for ASCs and 0.1% for retail clinics.
Fair Health’s reports draw on a database that holds more than 40 billion claims and expands by more than 2 billion claim records per year. The data comes from privately insured patients and third-party administrators.
The nonprofit also has a monthly tracker that revealed a 7.27% increase in telehealth among medical claim lines between December 2022 and January 2023. That followed a 3.77% increase from November to December, according to the monthly tracker.
Claim lines for retail clinics increased 128% across the U.S. from 2016 to 2021. The substantial rise in retail clinic use comes as many retail chains — like Amazon and Walgreens — branch out into clinical care. Amazon closed its $3.9 billion acquisition of primary care chain One Medical in February. Meanwhile, Walgreens completed its $8.9 billion deal in January to acquire healthcare provider Summit Health.
Retail clinic use grew by 78% in rural areas from 2020 to 2021 compared to 50% growth in urban geographies.
Although the COVID-19 public health emergency will end May 11, the federal government has extended flexibility regarding Medicare telehealth billing until Dec. 31, 2024.