Hospital telehealth leveling off at one-fifth of medical appointments, research finds
The pandemic resulted in a historic increase in telehealth use last year, as providers quickly pivoted to handling non-emergent visits virtually to recoup lost in-person volume. According to data from EHR provider Epic, telehealth made up almost 70% of all ambulatory visits by mid-April of 2020. Before the pandemic, they made up fewer than 0.01%.
However, telehealth utilization has oscillated since its peak, generally linked to rising and falling COVID-19 cases, experts say. In 2021, usage has more or less fallen off with the reopening of doctor's offices and hospitals and widespread vaccination efforts, though its unclear how the recent resurgence in cases tied to the highly infectious delta variant may have affected virtual visits.
There's a general consensus in the industry that telehealth utilization will never go back to its low pre-pandemic levels, but market watchers are curious where it will level off. That will have huge repercussions for the sustainability of the recent telehealth boom.
KLAS and CCM's survey of roughly 100 hospital executives — taken before the uptick in COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant — jibes with other research on current levels of telehealth utilization. A McKinsey study released in mid-July found telehealth use is currently ranging from 13% to 17% of visits across all specialties.
CCM and KLAS also found high interest among hospitals and health systems in providing telehealth over the long term, with respondents pointing at its ability to reach previously underserved populations, especially those without easy local access to healthcare like in rural areas, and provide more cost-effective care.
In research conducted last fall by KLAS and CCM, 77% of respondents said their organizations were measuring use of telehealth by patients to try to understand its value. In the latest survey, that figure rose to 92%.
And about a quarter of respondents reported measuring health outcomes for patients using telehealth in the latest survey, up from 12% in the 2020 report.
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