Telehealth use jumped 53% from 2016 to 2017, outpacing all other sites of care, according to a new report.
Telehealth utilization grew nearly twice as fast in urban than rural areas over that span, according to a new white paper from Fair Health, which parsed its database of 28 billion commercial insurance claims, the largest repository in the country. National use of urgent-care centers increased 14%, followed by retail clinics at 7% and ambulatory surgery centers at 6%, while emergency department utilization declined 2%.
Private insurance claims for telehealth services have increased more than 1,200% from 2012 to 2017, Fair Health’s data shows. Although ED utilization dropped in 2017, it still was the most-used setting.
“Telehealth has become a rather prominent source of service for mental health conditions,” said Fair Health President Robin Gelburd, adding that it has broken down the barriers to mental healthcare related to stigma and access.
In 2017, most people used telehealth for injuries like bruises and open wounds, acute respiratory infections and digestive problems. Neither injury or digestive system issues were among the top uses in 2016. Mental health, which topped the telehealth utilization list in 2016, was fifth in 2017 at 7% of claims, compared with 13% for the aforementioned uses.
Pediatric and young adults accounted for a larger share of those who used telehealth, but the age 31-to-60 demographic continued to use it the most.
Telehealth is a widely touted tool since it is often a cheaper and more convenient means to access care. More states are rolling out new laws facilitating virtual care delivery, although there are still impediments, particularly on the federal level. This can make investments in the technology inherently riskier.
Image Credit: Alex Kacik / Modern Healthcare