Telehealth usage is declining and in-person visits at medical facilities are increasing again, according to new data from FAIR Health.
The healthcare data organization’s Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker, which tracks medical and dental claims nationwide, found that the telehealth usage among the total volume of claim lines decreased by 12.5% between March and April. Data also showed that telehealth represented just 4.9% of all medical claim lines during April, which is a drop from 5.60% that was reported in March. The data was first reported by Modern Healthcare.
Telehealth flexibilities, first announced in March 2020, have been critical to reducing obstacles to care during the COVID-19 pandemic. The waivers allowed healthcare providers to be paid for a wider range of telehealth services for beneficiaries, and allowed nursing home beneficiaries to receive telehealth services.
A June report, however, showed that telehealth was used in only 13% of Medicare clinician visits during the pandemic.
Telehealth usage among rehab therapy has been mixed around the country, according to Cynthia Morton, executive vice president for the National Association for the Support of Long Term Care.
“In some places it’s heavily used and in some places it has decreased some as we do not have the situation of quarantined staff or strict protocols limiting staff movement in a facility as much as we did at this time last year. In some places, it is just as strong and increasing because we have a tool to deal with patient lack of access,” Morton told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News on Thursday.
She explained that overall rehab therapy’s use of telehealth is still “exponentially higher” than it was pre-pandemic thanks to the flexibilities approved during past COVID relief bills.
“Now, we are seeing less COVID-related telehealth needs now. It’s such an important tool to provide services in a timely manner especially where you might have a shortage of clinicians, so we are also seeing a strategic use of telehealth to address access to care issues such as rural locations, or staff shortage areas,” Morton said.
Federal health leaders have supported the idea of adopting the telehealth flexibilities on a permanent basis long after the public health crisis.
Morton said that though in-person delivered therapy is the gold standard and preferred, there are “some areas where therapy delivered by telehealth can help with the speed of getting a service to a patient or help with an evaluation when there are scarce therapists for a variety of reasons.”