News and Insights

What is telehealth? Telehealth is a broad term used to refer to health services that are provided remotely using communications technology. The patient and provider can be next door or separated by thousands of miles. Telehealth services can range from clinical visits, patient support, and case management to health monitoring via connected devices. For many, telehealth seems brand new, but it has been around for decades, bringing much-needed specialist services to rural areas and monitoring patients’ health with chronic medical conditions.

During the COVID pandemic, telehealth moved into the mainstream. Emergency measures expanded the types of services that were reimbursable under a telehealth model, new telehealth providers emerged, and the general population became comfortable with seeing providers via video conferencing. The rapid deployment of telehealth on a broad scale increased public awareness and comfort with the technology.

There are many benefits of telemedicine and telehealth including:

  • Increased access to care for rural patients
  • Removing barriers for patients with disabilities and immunocompromised patients
  • Confidential and easy access to mental health and substance abuse services.
  • Device-enabled monitoring.
  • Enhanced patient-provider communication
  • Coordination with other providers
  • Same day consults
  • Reduced cancelations and no-shows.

But telemedicine has some limitations as well.

  • Patient access can be limited by not having the required technology in place.
  • Individuals’ skill level with the needed technology may not be where it needs to be for a successful visit.
  • Many conditions are better diagnosed via in-person examination and testing.
  • Insurance reimbursement rates vary and can penalize providers.

Telemedicine adoption during the COVID pandemic significantly increased utilization but those numbers are declining.

  • In a 2022 report, telehealth visits peaked at 73.7 million in 2020 Q2 and dropped 37% to 46.4 million in 2022 Q1.
  • Data from Fair Health reports that in June of 2022, telehealth claims accounted for approximately 5% of all claims, down from 6.8% in 2020 but still a healthy percentage compared to less than .2% before the pandemic. Experts expected these drops as patients could return to in-patient medical services.

Still, with more than half of patients receiving telehealth services and high patient/provider satisfaction, telemedicine is here to stay. 68 percent of physicians report that they want to increase the use of telehealth in their practice. While other service areas have returned to in-person, behavioral services remain the top billing code for telehealth. According to Fair Health, in February of 2023, 66.7 percent of claims were mental health related.

What’s Ahead for Telehealth

Telehealth is an effective health service for many conditions, including mental and chronic physical conditions. As most patients and providers are now comfortable with telehealth services for treating some conditions, there is room for continued adoption, particularly in mental health, rural health, and health monitoring. Telehealth will also remain essential for accessing healthcare when infection control is a top priority, as medical professionals can treat patients without exposure on-site in clinical settings. Telehealth also addresses critical healthcare worker shortages by allowing patients in rural areas to have access to providers in other locations.

The most effective healthcare may not be strictly in-person or via telehealth but in a hybrid approach. An effective hybrid model could include in-person clinical visits to test and diagnose complex conditions augmented by remote health monitoring, follow-up care, patient-provider communications, and collaboration with other providers. Insurance companies are beginning to toward a hybrid model.

Some of the emergency regulatory changes around telehealth have been permanently adopted. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have made the reimbursable telehealth codes from the 2021 physician fee schedule permanent.

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