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Healthcare orgs should plan for sustainable telehealth adoption

As telehealth adoption rates have reached double-digits, healthcare organization should prepare for sustainable use of this service.
By admin
Nov 14, 2022, 5:14 PM

Analysis of more than 400 million healthcare claims between 2020 and 2022 shows telehealth adoption reached 10% of all outpatient visits, compared to 1% prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare advisory services firm The Chartis Group reported the finding based on underlying data sourced from clearinghouse claims vendors representing submitted medical claims nationwide.

The study states that “telehealth has established a prominent and lasting role in healthcare delivery across various geographies, patient demographics, and clinical service areas.” Although year-over-year trends reflect downward trajectory of telehealth adoption, the national rate stabilized at around 10% from March through June 2022, the most recent months tracked by the analysis. Seasonal fluctuations will continue, with large increases typically occurring in the winter, after end-of-year holidays, according to Chartis.

Related story: 2022 Digital Health Most Wired: Pandemic rebound is transforming care

The report also makes observations in the following areas:

  • Telehealth users aged 18-44 have the highest steadying adoption rate, hovering around 15% between March and June 2022, while usage among seniors (65+) dropped to about 5% during the same timeframe. Additionally, geographic regions with the lowest percentage of English-only speakers consistently used telehealth more than regions with higher rates of English-only speakers, which indicates telehealth can be a viable care-access point for non-English speakers.
  • Telehealth adoption has been sustained on both coasts and through parts of the Midwest while remaining low through most of the Gulf Coast through the Great Plains. Areas with relatively high adoption rates, such as New England, tend to foster regional telehealth agreements, reciprocal credentialing, and standards for licensure and payment coverage.
  • Telehealth usage tends to gravitate toward one modality (video or telephone) versus another. No state has widely adopted both platforms concurrently. The top 5 states for overall adoption are Louisiana, Massachusetts, Texas, Maryland and Georgia.
  • Clinical adoption. Psychiatry, neurology, gastroenterology, dermatology and OB/GYN lead the way in combined video/audio telehealth usage. In general terms, behavioral health is by far the leading specialty category, with over 50% of visits being delivered virtually. Primary care currently conducts about 10% of visits via telehealth. The report predicts rising baseline adoption rates among providers, corresponding with additional successful use cases and greater patient familiarity with telehealth utilization.

Related story: 5G or satellite: What’s the best connectivity for telehealth in underserved areas?

Telehealth adoption: Implications for provider organizations

Chartis advised healthcare organizations should plan for telehealth’s expected “staying power” by making virtual visits available across service lines and patient cohorts. They will likely face growing competition from retail providers who are building their own telehealth-enabled care models.

Organizations should also integrate telehealth into patient-retention strategies. Currently, most virtual visits take place with patients who have existing relationships with their care providers.

Additionally, providers should consider the accessibility of their telehealth services, given the popularity of virtual visits in geographic areas with fewer English-speaking patients.

Further, traditional access points like primary care or the emergency department should evaluate a digital-first care model integrating behavioral health services, the leading clinical modality for telehealth adoption.

Finally, provider organizations should study clear patterns in telehealth utilization—such as predictable volume surges in winter months—to plan accordingly with technology capacity and appropriate staffing levels.

Frank Irving is a Philadelphia-based content writer and communications consultant specializing in healthcare and technology.

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