Telehealth visits were at their peak during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they have started to trail off, according to a new joint study from the Peterson Center on Healthcare and Kaiser Family Foundation.
Researchers examined telehealth utilization across Epic's Cosmos database, which included 889 hospitals and 19,420 clinics conducting virtual visits from March-August 2021.
According to the study, telehealth use skyrocketed from less than 1% prior to the pandemic to comprising 13% of outpatient visits during the first six months of COVID-19. Meanwhile, that rated declined to 11% during the next six month period before falling to 8% approximately one year into the pandemic (March-August 2021).
As it stands, the proportion of outpatient visits conducted via telehealth is still about 60% of what it was during the first six months of the pandemic (13% vs. 8%), according to the study.
At the onset of the pandemic, children and non-elderly adults (ages 19-64) accessed care via telemedicine options for 18% and 14% of outpatient visits, respectively. On the other hand, elderly adults (ages 65 and older) used telehealth for only 10% of outpatient visits.
When comparing men and women’s use of telehealth, the results were similar.
When the pandemic first hit, 8% of women’s outpatient visits were conducted via telehealth compared with 7% of men’s visits.
About 1 in 6 people with chronic conditions such as obesity, asthma, and diabetes, used telehealth for care management in the first six-months of the pandemic. However, between March 2021 and August 2021, the share of outpatient visits among patients with chronic conditions declined.
For instance, the share of outpatient visits delivered via telehealth for asthma dropped from 25% in March through August 2020, to 8% nearly one year later.
"Going forward, it’s not clear what role telehealth will play, and for what types of health services," the authors of the report noted, adding that regulatory and coverage policies in addition to clinical guidelines and recommendations will help determine telehealth’s role.
Read the full study here.