Since the start of the pandemic, mental disorders have remained the main diagnosis in telemedicine across the country, recently hitting 61.2% of all virtual health care visits.
From August to September 2021, the percentage of mental health cases in all telemedicine applications at the national level increased, according to FAIR Health. Telehealth Monthly Regional Tracker found.
While most interactions with virtual doctors have returned to lower rates, visits to virtual behavioral doctors continue to rise, according to Tom Keesau, senior partner at Chartis Group.
“There is none of the broader social perceptions that are associated with the problems of people seeking mental health care,” said Kizau. “Historically, in a virtual environment, it is protected and private.”
In terms of mental health services, telehealth has helped populations overcome stigma, improve access and receive more consistent care, ”said Christa Drobak, executive director of Alliance for Connected Care.
FAIR Health has used data from privately insured populations, including Medicare Advantage, to estimate monthly telehealth development since May 2020. The data also show that nationwide telehealth use as a percentage of all medical claims rose by about 2% in August and September, after months of quitting.
Overall telemedicine use rose to 4.4% of all medical claims in September as COVID-19 strains and disease outbreaks began to gradually withdraw patients from personal visits. Although the number of virtual caregivers increased in the Midwest and West, they decreased in the Northeast, and there was no change in their use in the South.
Reducing telehealth use is inherently not a bad thing, Drobak said, as industry experts have always expected telehealth levels to drop when patients return to personal visits. The ability to use virtual opportunities is important.
“Our expectations for how much health care people will use remain the same,” she said. “It’s just the combination of how they do healthcare that changes. And this is good”.
Across the country, healthcare clients are largely either passive about telemedicine, letting doctors dictate their own proposals, or investing in and focusing on the virtual consumer experience, Kizau said.
“Some organizations are making more concerted efforts to provide digital access and digital experiences for patients, which increase their percentage of virtual interactions,” he said.
In August, COVID-19 accounted for between 1.5% and 3.5% of claims in all regions except the Northeast, and in September, the virus dropped out of five major diagnoses seen in telemedicine across the country.
The decline is likely due to more people being vaccinated and possibly having less severe symptoms, Drobak said.
Nationally, developmental disorders rose from fourth to third place in the top diagnoses of telemedicine, and substance use disorders entered the top five in September.
Of the five major telemedicine treatment codes, ranked by degree of use, 30-minute evaluative and guided psychotherapy sessions ranked fifth nationwide in September. This procedure replaced talking with the doctor on the phone for five to ten minutes.
At this stage of the pandemic, patients are still hesitant to return to office visits, Kizau said, but they are very happy with the telemedicine capabilities.
Over time, he said, the industry will change and healthcare facilities that offer the most flexibility in their virtual and personal services will accumulate more patients.
“Consumers ultimately dictate how to run and transform a business based on their requirements for convenience and simplicity,” said Kizau.