- More patients turned to telehealth to see a doctor in May than April, in step with an increase in COVID-19 cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Fair Health’s latest monthly tracker of private insurance claim lines.
- Virtual visits rose 10.2% in May, accounting for 5.4% of all medical claim lines in the month, compared to 4.9% in April, Fair Health said Monday. It was the second straight month that telehealth's share of claims grew.
- COVID-19 made the list of top five telehealth diagnoses in every region of the country in May, holding in the No. 2 spot in the Northeast while climbing to second place in the Midwest and West and third place in the South.
Telehealth usage surged early in the pandemic, embraced by both consumers and providers as an alternative to in-person care and supported by expanded reimbursement and other policy changes intended to boost adoption during the public health emergency.
Fair Health has found that telehealth visits tend to rise when COVID-19 case counts increase and fall when the virus' spread slows. In April, telehealth usage picked up across the country, along with an uptick in COVID-19 diagnoses, following two months of declining use.
Fair Health's new data shows that both virtual care visits and COVID-19 telehealth diagnoses swung higher in May. The CDC's seven-day moving average of cases climbed from nearly 59,000 on May 1 to more than 104,000 on May 31. "The increased risk of infection may have led more patients to avoid in-person care," the nonprofit said.
The growth in telehealth visits in May was most pronounced in the Midwest, where virtual care use jumped 17.6%, Fair Health reported.
Nationally, COVID-19 infections rose to second place from third among the top five diagnoses during telehealth visits in May. Mental health conditions remained the top use of remote care, at 62.8% of telehealth claim lines. Acute respiratory diseases and infections were third, followed by developmental disorders and joint/soft tissue diseases.
Advocates for permanent regulatory changes to preserve access to telehealth for patients after the pandemic say there is widespread support for maintaining remote care options. Those efforts gained momentum In late July, when the House passed the Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act, which would extend reimbursement flexibilities through the end of 2024.