Telehealth

Note from the editor

Telehealth is one of a select few industries that's benefited from the coronavirus pandemic. Before COVID-19 hit the U.S., virtual care use was growing steadily, but only a tiny fraction of consumers had tried it. Vendors faced barriers like lack of public awareness, regulatory hurdles, low reimbursement and wariness from some doctors.

Fast forward to 2020. Almost overnight, telehealth became more of a necessity than a luxury, as a way to minimize potential exposure to COVID-19, ensure patient access to care and allow providers a pathway to recoup valuable revenue from flatlining in-person visits. The Trump administration eased rules, private payers upped reimbursement and providers began offering telehealth in droves as a result.

According to data from EHR giant Epic, telehealth made up almost 70% of all ambulatory visits by mid-April. Before the pandemic, they made up fewer than 0.01%.

Virtual volume began decreasing in June amid cessation of state lockdowns and slowing case rates, before jumping again in the winter months as COVID-19 found a renewed foothold in the U.S. 2021 dawned and, with the widespread vaccination effort, so too did the hope that COVID-19 could soon be in the rear view, concerning some telehealth proponents afraid virtual care utilization might fade as well.

However, telehealth visits remain significantly elevated compared to pre-COVID-19 levels, and patients report high satisfaction with digitally delivered care. Experts say without COVID-19 tailwinds, utilization is likely to moderate somewhat but remain high overall, with consultancy McKinsey estimating it will stabilize at 38 times higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Further positive signs for the sector come from top health officials in the Biden administration verbalizing support for expanded telehealth, along with historic levels of investment in the red-hot digital health space. That unprecedented influx of cash, tied to laxer regulations, have led some experts to forecast these trends might converge to create a new, digital-first model of care.

Rebecca Pifer Reporter

Predicting the future of healthcare: 10 takeaways from HIMSS21

Along with 'guarded optimism' on the current state of the pandemic, some 19,000 onsite attendees in Las Vegas mulled over what's next for AI, telehealth, cybersecurity, femtech and more.

• Published Aug. 13, 2021

Biden administration invests $19M to bolster rural telehealth

• Published Aug. 18, 2021

CVS Health's Aetna unveils nationwide primary care telehealth service

• Published Aug. 11, 2021

Telehealth has promising future if obstacles can be overcome, poll finds

• Published Aug. 6, 2021

Telehealth waivers wind down, restricting some providers from delivering care across state lines

States allowed medical professionals licensed elsewhere to hold virtual visits with their residents during the pandemic. Some are making the rollbacks permanent, but others are reversing again.

• Published Aug. 4, 2021

Telehealth investments soar even as market matures

• Published July 30, 2021

Virtual behavioral healthcare skyrocketed last year as COVID-19 stressed US mental health

• Published March 18, 2021

Microsoft, Teladoc partner on virtual care integration for hospitals

• Published July 14, 2021

Digital health funding in 2021 smashes past year's record with $14.7B

• Published July 7, 2021

Doctor on Demand, Grand Rounds merge to create multibillion-dollar digital health company

• Published March 16, 2021 • Updated March 17, 2021

The latest trends in telehealth

Telehealth is one of a select few industries that's seen benefits from the coronavirus pandemic. Before COVID-19 hit the U.S., virtual care use was growing steadily, but only a small fraction of consumers had tried it. Fast forward to 2020. Almost overnight, telehealth became more of a necessity than a luxury, as a way to minimize potential exposure to COVID-19, ensure patient access to care and allow providers a pathway to recoup valuable revenue from flatlining in-person visits.

included in this trendline
  • Interviews with executives at Teladoc, Amwell and Doctor on Demand
  • Telehealth vendors scramble to hire doctors as patient volume soars amid COVID-19
  • Patients steadily return to in-person primary care as telehealth plateaus