Use of telehealth rapidly increased according to FAIR Health report

The increased utilization of telehealth and telemedicine in the health care market have had noticeable impacts on the market itself. FAIR Health, an independent nonprofit that collects data for and manages the nation’s largest database of privately billed health insurance claims, took a deep dive into their claims data and found standout trends relating to the use of telehealth across the nation. The data shows trends relating to overall use, age distribution, and the type of medical condition patients reported. 

According to the report, telehealth can be divided into four different categories, depending on the type of care needed: 

  • Provider-to-provider telehealth:  this involves consultation between health care professionals. In the other three types, a physician or other provider connects directly with a patient. 
  • Provider-to-patient–non-hospital-based telehealth:The provider and the patient communicate without relation to a hospital. For example, a patient who is home and has not had a recent hospitalization has a video chat with a provider to show his or her rash. 
  • Provider-to-patient–discharge telehealth: The telehealth visit is a follow-up after the patient is discharged from an inpatient stay in the hospital.
  • Physician-to-patient–ED/inpatient telehealth: The patient is in the hospital, whether in the ED or as an inpatient, communicating via telehealth with a physician. 

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Overall, the use of telehealth services has increased in recent years. According to the report, “from 2014 to 2018, use of non-hospital-based provider-to-patient telehealth grew 1,393 percent, from 0.007 percent to 0.104 percent of all medical claim lines. Claim lines related to any type of telehealth grew 624 percent, from 0.0192 percent to 0.1394 percent of all medical claim lines.”

 

Notably, the use of telehealth grew more rapidly in urban areas rather than in rural areas. This is interesting because the accessibility of health care services in rural areas of the country are more limited than in urban areas. In urban areas, the use of telehealth services grew 1,227 percent over 4 years. In rural areas, this increase was 897 percent. 

 

An opposite geographical trend is apparent after hospital discharge, according to the report: 

“Claim lines for this type of telehealth increased more in rural than urban areas from 2014 to 2018. In rural areas, the increase was 407 percent, from 0.005 percent to 0.025 percent of all rural medical claim lines. In urban areas, the increase was 157 percent, from 0.007 percent to 0.019 percent of all urban medical claim lines,” the report finds.

An important takeaway from the discussion around rural and urban trends is that the data shows complex trends at the level of individual types of health. 

The report also finds noteworthy trends in the utilization of telehealth services by age. Younger individuals, ages 18-34 tend to use telehealth services more frequently than older generations. This age group accounts for 21 percent of all claims. For older generations, individuals over age 80 accounted for 37 percent of patients who had an in-person visit for the same diagnosis within 15 days of a non-hospital-based provider-to-patient telehealth visit for heart failure in 2018. 

Men and women tend to utilize telehealth services at the same frequency, but for different types of services. Women utilize telehealth services 65 percent of the time, but utilize the services less frequently after hospital discharge. This suggests that men may utilize telehealth services after hospital discharge more often than women. 

The report finds that certain individuals use telehealth services for a similar conditions: 

“Acute upper respiratory infections were the number one reason individuals sought treatment from a provider for non-hospital-based telehealth in 2018. Such infections accounted for 16 percent of the distribution of claim lines for all telehealth visits of that kind. In second place was mood (affective) disorders, with six percent of the distribution; in third place was anxiety and other nonpsychotic mental disorders, with five percent of the distribution.”

FAIR Health concludes that telehealth has been growing rapidly, especially among patients without relation to a hospital visit. From 2014 to 2018, this type of telehealth increased in usage at a rate greater than that of any other type of telehealth and of telehealth overall, and its share of the distribution of telehealth claim lines increased significantly.