HHS issues new report highlighting dramatic trends in Medicare beneficiary telehealth utilization amid COVID-19

HHS issues new report highlighting dramatic trends in Medicare beneficiary telehealth utilization amid COVID-19

Press releases may be edited for formatting or style | July 29, 2020 Health IT Insurance Telemedicine

Second, the HHS Office for Civil Rights announced it is exercising its enforcement discretion and will not impose Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) penalties on covered health care providers for HIPAA violations in connection with the good faith delivery of telehealth using non-public facing technologies.

The combined result was a game-changer in Medicare FFS. The report finds telehealth adoption increased by nearly 50 percent in primary care at the peak and further dissects weekly utilization rates from January through early June 2020. While the report did not analyze specialist visits, other studies mentioned in the report have also shown dramatic increases in telehealth use during the pandemic among specialists such as psychiatry, gastroenterology and neurology to name a few.


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Rural vs Urban Telehealth Utilization

Providers in both rural and urban counties saw increases in telehealth adoption and utilization, however, providers in rural counties saw a smaller growth in telehealth visits as a proportion of all primary care visits in March and April, with a decrease again in May. By contrast, providers in urban counties, saw greater telehealth use in March and April and smaller declines in May. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York saw the highest uptake in telehealth primary care visits at the beginning of the PHE. Iowa, South Dakota and Oklahoma, more rural states, experienced a one-third increase of primary care visits by telehealth in April. Even the state with the lowest telehealth adoption, Nebraska, saw an increase in telehealth, up to 22 percent of primary care visits.

Urban areas with high rates of COVID-19 - New York City, Boston, Phoenix and Seattle - saw high but wide-ranging uptake in telehealth primary care visits at the beginning of the PHE, ranging from one third of primary care visits in Phoenix to nearly two-thirds in Boston.

Interest for Telehealth Post-Pandemic
The report also provided insights into the transformative and lasting ways telehealth will continue to supplement care delivery. Even after Medicare in-person primary care visits resumed in May, there continues to be steady demand for telehealth visits which are now more broadly available to Medicare beneficiaries and providers during the PHE. This suggests there will be continued interest in telehealth post-pandemic for millions of Medicare beneficiaries. Recent surveys of practitioners also suggest continued interest in telehealth among health care providers. For example, in a survey of about 300 practitioners (oncologists, specialists, and primary care) by IQVIA between April 17 and 22, 2020, practitioners said only 9 percent of their patient interaction was via telehealth prior to the pandemic; but that increased to 51 percent during the pandemic period, and they expected it to remain at 21 percent after the pandemic ends. While in-person patient-provider interactions will remain necessary and preferred, this pandemic has accelerated openness to telehealth in ways previously unseen – from policymakers to providers and patients alike.

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