Did the pandemic lead to a boost in telehealth offerings?


Despite the increase in availability, many patients still don’t know whether their physicians offer telehealth.

The COVID-19 pandemic saw physicians adapting in order to keep their doors open as lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders dropped patient volumes precipitously.

According to a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, telehealth was widely used to help fill the gap. The report looked at telehealth utilization by Medicare beneficiaries between the summer and fall of 2020.

Among patients with a regular source of care, 64 percent or 33.6 million say their provider currently offers telehealth appointments. This is up from 18 percent who said their care provider offered telehealth appointments before the pandemic, yet 23 percent of beneficiaries say they don’t know if their physician offers it. The share of patients who don’t know is even greater, 30 percent, when they live in rural areas, according to the report.

Nearly half, 45 percent, of the beneficiaries whose regular source of care currently provides telehealth appointment have taken advantage of the offering between July and fall of 2020m meaning 27 percent, or 15 million, of all community-dwelling beneficiaries had a telehealth appointment during that period, the report says.

Beneficiaries younger than 65 who qualify for Medicare due to a long-term disability (53 percent), those enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid (55 percent), Black (52 percent), and Hispanic (52 percent) were more likely to have had a telehealth appointment, according to the report.

A majority, 56 percent, of Medicare beneficiaries who have had a telehealth visit have accessed that care using only a telephone while smaller portions used video only or a combination of the two (28 percent and 16 percent respectively). The phone-only option was more popular with beneficiaries enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid (67 percent), those aged 75 and older (65 percent), those living in rural areas (65 percent), and Hispanic beneficiaries (61 percent), the report says.

This article was originally published on Medical Economics®.

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