- Americans' use of telehealth jumped by 53% between 2016 and 2017, outpacing growth in use of urgent care centers, retails clinics, ambulatory surgery centers and emergency rooms, according to a new white paper by the nonprofit FAIR Health.
- Use of telehealth services grew 55% in urban areas and 29% in rural areas, with Oklahoma and New Jersey seeing the most and least use, respectively.
- During the same time, use of urgent care centers increased 15% in urban areas but remained flat in rural areas, while retail clinic utilization fell 28% in urban areas and inched up just 3% in rural areas.
The shift to value-based care has helped to push more treatment of lower-acuity conditions to less costly settings. That, plus the rise of consumerism in healthcare, have help drive use of new care delivery options such as telehealth, urgent cares and retail clinics.
Since 2012, telehealth usage has grown from less than 5% nationally to 45% in 2017. The one-year surge in between 2016 and 2017 of 53% was far greater than increases in any of the other service settings covered in the report: urgent care centers (14%), retail clinics (7%) and ASCs (6%). Use of ERs dropped 2%.
Rural growth in telehealth claim lines increased by 482% over the five-year period, while urban telehealth claim lines rose 1,289%.
The rapid growth and enthusiasm for virtual medical visits is causing more hospitals and health systems to include telehealth services in their menu of service offerings. In a recent Vidyo report, leaders at large health systems named telehealth their No. 1 IT priority, with 46% reporting its use and 85% expecting adoption within the next three years.
Adults ages 31 to 61 were associated with the most telehealth use in 2017, at 44%, but use among children and young adults is growing, the report notes.
The top three reasons for telehealth visits were acute respiratory infections, digestive issues and injuries, each representing 13% of telehealth diagnoses. Mental health issues, the leading cause of telehealth use in 2016, dropped to fifth in 2017.
For urgent cares and retail clinics, the most frequent cause of visits among people 22 and older was acute respiratory infection. The most common diagnosis in younger patients was digestive system concerns.
Urgent care centers were the most costly, with the fee for a 30-minute visit averaging $213 in 2017 versus $207 at a doctor's office and $129 in a retail clinic.