How COVID-19 drove telehealth adoption: 8 key study findings

Telehealth visits dramatically increased during the pandemic, according to a March 23 cohort study of 36.6 million people published in JAMA Network Open.

The study included working-age individuals who were continuously enrolled in private health plans from March 2019 through June 2020. Data files were provided by Blue Health Intelligence, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. 

An analysis of the data was conducted from June to October 2020.

Here are eight key findings from the study:

  1. Telehealth use increased from 0.3 percent of provider visits in 2019 to 23.6 percent in 2020.

  2. In-person visits decreased by 37 percent from 2019 to 2020.

  3. The COVID-19-era patient and provider visit rates were 18 percent lower in 2020 than the year prior.

  4. Behavioral health visits were virtual 46.1 percent of the time, while medical visits were virtual 22.1 percent of the time.

  5. Patients from areas within the top quintile of COVID-19 cases during the week of their provider visit were 1.34 times more likely to have a telehealth visit compared with those in the lowest quintile.

  6. Individuals living in the most socially advantaged neighborhoods used telehealth 27.4 percent of the time, compared to 19.9 percent for those in the least socially advanced neighborhoods.

  7. Medical care costs decreased by 15 percent per enrollee from 2019 to 2020.

Those who had one or more COVID-19-related services had three times the medical costs than those without COVID-19-related services.


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