July 24, 2019

Private insurance claims for all telehealth services surged between 2014 and 2018, according to a new white paper from Fair Health, which is a nonprofit focused on price transparency in the health care industry.

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For the white paper, researchers analyzed data on more than 29 billion private health care claims records from Fair Health's database. They examined use trends across four main types of telehealth interactions:

  • Provider to provider;
  • Provider to patient post hospital discharge;
  • Provider to patient in a non-hospital setting; and
  • Physician to patient in an ED or hospital setting.

Findings

The researchers found medical claim lines for all telehealth services increased by 624% from 2014 to 2018.

However, the researchers found non-hospital-based telehealth services between a provider and patient were by far the most commonly used telehealth interaction during that time period: According to the researchers, telehealth services between providers and patients in non-hospital settings represented 84% of all telehealth claims lines in 2018, up from 52% in 2014.

The researchers also found that medical claim lines for that type of telehealth service saw the biggest rate of growth between 2014 and 2018, jumping nearly 1,400% during that timeframe:

Despite the growth spike, the researchers found that telehealth use overall remained low, comprising less than one percent of all commercial medical claims. For example, the researchers found telehealth services accounted for about 0.1394% of all medical claim lines in 2018, meaning they accounted for an average of 1 out of 1,000 visits.

Who is using telehealth services—and why?

The researchers found the patients most likely to use telehealth services were between the ages of 31 and 40. Robin Gelburd, Fair Health's president, said, "What that age cohort is showing is that telehealth is really becoming part of the front lines of primary care. And telehealth is providing a means of access to care that may be challenging for someone who may be working full time."

According to the researchers, female patients were associated with 65% of all telehealth claim lines from 2014 to 2018. The researchers noted that the top three conditions for which patients sought telehealth services in 2018 were:

  • Acute upper respiratory infections;
  • Anxiety and other nonpsychotic mental disorders; and
  • Mood disorders.

According to the researchers, patients with heart failure had the highest rate of in-person visits within 15 days of a telehealth visit (Drees, Becker's Hospital Review, 7/23; Kacik, "Transformation Hub," Modern Healthcare, 7/22).

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