Telehealth saw dip in June

The drop in use was starkest in the northeast.

Telehealth has been a lifesaver for practices hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic, but new data shows that its use is declining.

According to a news release from healthcare data firm FAIR Health, national telehealth utilization dropped 10 percent from May to June. It decreased from 5 percent of medical claim lines in May to 4.5 percent in June. Telehealth utilization is measured as a percentage of all medical claim lines.

This came after utilization rose 2 percent nationally from April to May and a decrease each month from February to April, the release says.

Telehealth claim lines fell across all four U.S. census regions, with the sharpest decline being seen in the northeast which saw an 11.9 percent drop from May to June, according to the release.

The period from May to June also saw changes to the top-five diagnoses given over telehealth. Joint/soft tissue diseases and issues saw a rise in the rankings nationally (from number four in May to number three in June) and in all regions except for the west. Acute respiratory diseases and infections also rose from third to second in the same period. Meanwhile mental health conditions remained at the top nationally and in every region, the release says.

In the south, urinary tract infections rose to fifth among telehealth diagnoses in June after not appearing on the regional or national lists since the beginning of the pandemic. It had been common prior to COVID-19, according to the release.

The same period also saw changes to the top five telehealth procedure codes by utilization, specifically CPT 99214, established patient outpatient visit, total time 30-39 minutes, rose from third to second place, while CPT 99213, established patient outpatient visit, total time 20-29 minutes, fell from second to third place, the release says.

While June seemed bleak for telehealth, the service remains a key tool in the arsenal of physicians treating those most at risk during the pandemic.

According to a study prepared by survey and market research firm SSRS on behalf the Bipartisan Policy Center, while 31 percent of the general population of U.S. had a telehealth visit for themselves or a dependent an even greater share of adults over the age of 65 have taken advantage of the service. Among Medicare beneficiaries, 44 percent reported having a telehealth visit within the last year.

The service is also proving to be effective as eight out of 10 adults said that their primary health issue was resolved by a telehealth visit. This isn’t surprising as 63 percent of telehealth visits were for a preventive service, routine visits for chronic illness, or for prescription refills. In these cases, audio-only visits were as likely to resolve patient issues as video visits.

Rural residents and older adults have reported technology-related barriers to accessing telehealth as 42 percent of older adults and 35 percent of rural residents reported that access to high-speed internet or broadband was an obstacle. Overall 45 percent of respondents reported some type of technical issue has been an obstacle to their taking advantage of telehealth visits.