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Telehealth claim lines flat following two months of declines, Fair Health says

Dive Brief:

  • Telehealth claim lines increased 3,552% in August this year compared to last, according to new data from Fair Health’s monthly tracker.
  • Virtual care volume was relatively flat compared to July, following two months of declines, hinting at the staying power of telehealth even as COVID-19 cases fluctuate nationwide.
  • Telehealth rose from just 0.17% of all medical claim lines in August last year to 6.07% this year. That’s compared to 6% in July this year.

Dive Insight:

Telehealth claim lines continue to see thousand-point-percentage increases compared to 2019 levels as the pandemic spurs historic utilization of virtual care. However, virtual care claims fell on a month-to-month basis from April to May, and May to June, hinting at a slight volume decline as state lockdowns eased and more patients returned to in-person care for non-emergent needs.

On a year-over-year basis, telehealth claim lines for privately insured people jumped 4,347%, 8,336% and 5,680% in March, April and May, respectively, Fair Health found.

Each major U.S. region saw large increases in the use of telehealth on a year-over-year basis in August, but small variations in claim line volume from July to August this year, according to nonprofit Fair Health’s repository of 31 billion private insurance claims.

Interestingly, the changes were to some degree hitched to changes in the COVID-19 caseload in the region.

For example, the South, which was particularly hard-hit by the pandemic over the summer, saw the biggest month-over-month rise in telehealth claim lines, rising 9.7%. And the Northeast, which saw a peak in COVID-19 cases in the spring, saw the biggest drop in telehealth claim lines, dropping 7.7%, the nonprofit said.

Investors, betting big on sustained virtual care utilization as the sector accelerates digital adoption amid COVID-19, have poured record funding into telehealth companies and tools. Those tailwinds have given rise to big exits and M&A, too, with virtual care giant Teladoc snapping up chronic care management player Livongo for $18.5 billion in August and telehealth company Amwell going public in September, among other moves.

Mental health conditions continue to be the number one telehealth diagnosis nationwide, a title it’s held since March, Fair Health said. Yet it still grew as a share of all diagnoses, from 45.4% in July to 48.9% in August.

Virtual tools for mental and behavioral health are seeing rapid growth as the pandemic exacerbates conditions like anxiety and depression.

In a Wednesday call with investors, Teladoc CEO Jason Gorevic said utilization of mental health services has continued to grow in each subsequent month of the year, and it’s a growth area for the New York-based vendor.

From July to August, acute respiratory diseases rose from the fifth most common diagnosis to the fourth most common. However, the conditions made up a much smaller share of telehealth in August this year than they did in August last year, implying virtual care is amid a pivot from low-acuity urgent care to more diverse diagnoses, including longitudinal care management for conditions like behavioral health.

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