Elizabeth (Izzy) Montgomery, MPA
Following strong adoption early in the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth continues to have high utilization nationally, according to a July 9 report analyzing trends in telehealth use before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report found that telehealth usage as of February 2021 was 38 times higher than it was in February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Telehealth usage peaked in April 2020 at 78 times above the pre-pandemic baseline and stabilized from June 2020 through February 2021, averaging around 38 times higher than the baseline. Data used in the report included healthcare claims data from the Compile dataset, which includes claims data from various medical specialties.
The report cites three key factors which contributed to this change in telemedicine utilization: increased consumer adoption of telehealth, increased provider adoption of telehealth, and regulatory changes at the state and federal levels that expanded access to telehealth and increased reimbursement for providers. The report also highlights medical practice areas with the largest share of telehealth outpatient and office visit claims, with the top five being psychiatry, substance use disorder treatment, endocrinology, rheumatology, and gastroenterology.
ACHI has tracked telehealth claims utilization in the Arkansas State and Public School Health Insurance Plan since the latter half of 2020. As the graph below shows, in March 2020, telehealth claims averaged around 7,000 per month. During the first seven full months of the pandemic, from April 2020 through October 2020, telehealth claims averaged around 20,000 per month, almost three times higher compared to March 2020. Although there was a reduction in telemedicine claims utilization from November 2020 through April 2021, telehealth claims were still up 67% in April 2021 compared to March 2020.
Source: Arkansas Center for Health Improvement analysis of All-Payer Claims Database data.
A recently published story in Arkansas Business asserted that telehealth is here to stay in Arkansas, citing the necessity for telehealth services due to the pandemic and key state policy changes that expanded telemedicine access. Our analysis of telehealth claims utilization among the state’s largest self-insured plan supports the notion that telehealth is likely to have a more permanent place in Arkansas moving forward.