The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred a massive, industry-wide increase in telehealth adoption. Telehealth and telemedicine usage in 2020 far exceeds 2019 numbers. According to Definitive Healthcare medical claims data, telehealth claims through July 2020 are nearly 18 times higher than 2019 totals. This analysis pertains to claims with a place of service code of “02.” Claims with this identifier relate to virtual care settings, and not in-person care settings.
From 2019 to 2020, urgent care clinics and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) reported the largest increases in total telehealth claims. As of July 2020, telehealth claims increased by 8.4 percent at FQHCs. This surge in visits resulted in a year-over-year increase of 9,412.3 percent from 2019 telehealth claims. Urgent care clinics saw a 4.6 percent growth in telehealth claims as of July 2020. This amounts to a year-over-year increase of 4,258.1 percent from 2019 claims at urgent care clinics.
As of July 2020, chronic diseases and mental health conditions were among the top 10 most common telehealth diagnoses at FQHCs. Mental health conditions like generalized anxiety disorder appeared as top diagnoses in 2019, as well. The emergence of chronic disease diagnoses like hypertension or diabetes is a notable change from 2019.
Many patients with chronic illnesses are avoiding in-person care because of the COVID-19 virus. Instead, these patients are seeking virtual care from the safety of their homes. This most likely explains the shift in top diagnoses from 2019 to 2020.
As of July 2020, urgent care clinics have also seen an increase in mental health and chronic disease telehealth diagnoses. These diagnoses include many of the same ones reported by FQHCs, like anxiety disorder or hypertension. But unlike FQHCs, urgent care clinics are also diagnosing many acute episodes in 2020. Common acute episodes include diagnoses like cough or exposure to communicable diseases.
When COVID-19 began spreading across the U.S. in January 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) encouraged patients and providers to use telehealth services for safer care delivery. In response, many payers—including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)—increased coverage for these virtual services. As a result, primary care providers saw a dramatic increase in telehealth claims.
Family practice and internal medicine providers saw the greatest increase in telehealth claims. As of July 2020, family practice providers reported a total of almost 2.3 million telehealth claims. In 2019, they reported only 21,421 claims. With such a dramatic rise, telehealth claims increased by 10,600 percent from 2019 to 2020. Similarly, internal medicine providers reported over 1.6 million telehealth claims as of July 2020. This amounts to a year-over-year increase of 11,272 percent from 2019 claims.