- Providers not based in hospitals are rapidly adopting telehealth, reaching about 1% of all claims studied by nonprofit FAIR Health in a recent white paper. In 2018, non hospital-based providers accounted for 84% of all telehealth claims, up from 52% in 2014.
- Those most likely to use telehealth services were people aged 31 to 40, accounting for 21% of claims. Women used telehealth more often than men, according to the report, which analyzed more than 29 billion private health claims records.
- The conditions most associated with telehealth use were upper respiratory infection, mood disorders and anxiety or other nonpyschotic mental disorders, FAIR Health said.
Provider interest in telehealth is rising. The number of physicians reporting telemedicine as a skill has increased 20% over the past three years, according to Doximity. A recent report from the American Telemedicine Association found recognition of telehealth at the state level has gone up, with most states expanding coverage and reimbursement for it.
And patients are taking doctors up on the offerings. Another recent report from FAIR Health showed use of telehealth services is growing faster than usage at retail clinics, urgent care centers and emergency departments. The most recent FAIR Health findings show overall telehealth claims increasing 624% from 2014 to 2018.
One important draw for patients is the convenience of a virtual visit, especially for those with strict work schedules, who most likely fall in that age 31-40 cohort, FAIR Health President Robin Gelburd told Healthcare Dive.
"With increased coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act, the question is whether access keeps pace with that increased insurance coverage," she said. "I think what we're seeing is the healthcare ecosystem conforming to an expanded insured population trying to access care in ways that are innovative and do offer a level of convenience."
But while usage is increasing, several obstacles hinder broader adoption of telehealth. Reimbursement is lagging, providers face accrediting hurdles, and rural areas can struggle to get the high-speed internet access necessary to implement telehealth.
The Federal Communication Commissions is attempting to alleviate rural concerns through a pilot program that gives a discount on connectivity for broadband-enabled telehealth services directly connecting doctors and patients.
CMS is slowly opening more reimbursement avenues for telehealth services, particularly through expanded benefit options under Medicare Advantage. HHS Secretary Alex Azar said at an MA-focused conference this week his department wants to offer "more opportunities for MA plans and entities they work with, including creative value-based insurance design arrangements, moving care to the home and community and new ways for MA plans to improve a patients' health over the long term."