FAIR Health’s Telehealth Tracker Shows Staying Power of Telehealth during COVID-19 Pandemic

November 19, 2020

The staying power of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic was evident in the August 2020 results of FAIR Health’s Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker. Telehealth claim lines increased 3,552 percent nationally from August 2019 to August 2020, rising from 0.17 percent of medical claim lines in August 2019 to 6.07 percent in August 2020. From month to month, the telehealth share of medical claim lines stayed relatively the same nationally, rising 1.2 percent from 6.00 percent in July 2020 to 6.07 percent in August 2020. The data represent the privately insured population, excluding Medicare and Medicaid.

Trends in the four US census regions (Midwest, Northeast, South and West) were similar to those in the nation as a whole. In each region, there were large percent increases in volume of claim lines from August 2019 to August 2020, but small variations in volume of claim lines from July 2020 to August 2020. The variations were, to some degree, commensurate with changes in the pandemic—for example, rising the most (9.7 percent) in the South, which was particularly hard-hit in the summer; falling the most (7.7 percent) in the Northeast, which had experienced its peak of cases in the spring.

Higher telehealth utilization from March to August 2020 in comparison with the same months in 2019 is likely a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March and April 2020, many states prohibited in-person rendering of elective procedures, making telehealth an attractive alternative. Many of these prohibitions expired in May as states began to open up. But despite some decline from month to month, telehealth usage remained high by comparison with 2019.

Other notable findings of the August Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker concern the top five telehealth diagnoses. Mental health conditions, the number one telehealth diagnosis nationally and in every region since March 2020, continued to rise as a share of all telehealth diagnoses, growing nationally from 45.39 percent to 48.93 percent from July to August 2020. An increase of similar size occurred across regions—four percent in every region but the Midwest, which saw three percent growth.

From July to August 2020, acute respiratory diseases rose from the fifth most common diagnosis in telehealth nationally (at 2.37 percent) to the fourth most common (at 2.32 percent). Even so, acute respiratory diseases accounted for a much smaller share of telehealth in August 2020 than they did in August 2019 (17.63 percent), due to the diversity of other diagnoses that became more common in telehealth as a result of the pandemic.

About the Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker
Launched in May as a free service, the Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker uses FAIR Health data to track how telehealth is evolving from month to month. An interactive map of the four US census regions allows the user to view an infographic on telehealth in a specific month in the nation as a whole or in individual regions. In addition to data on the volume of claim lines and on diagnoses, each infographic includes findings on urban versus rural usage and the top five telehealth procedure codes.

FAIR Health President Robin Gelburd stated: “After several months of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has persisted in showing high utilization across the country. FAIR Health’s Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker will continue to provide a window into how this venue of care is evolving.”

For the Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker, click here.