Welcome to Telehealth Roundup, highlighting news and features about emerging trends in telemedicine and telehealth.
Outpatient Visits Rebound
Outpatient visits per week have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, but not for all providers and patients, a new Commonwealth Fund report showed.
In total, weekly outpatient visit counts have slightly exceeded pre-pandemic levels, but varied by patient age, geographic area, clinical specialty, and insurance coverage, the research institute reported.
Weekly visits to dermatologists, urologists, and adult primary care physicians, for example, were higher than before the pandemic, while visits to pulmonologists and behavioral health providers were considerably lower.
As in-person visits dropped during the early days of the COVID-19 public health emergency, telemedicine visits rose rapidly. Since peaking in mid-April, telemedicine use has steadily declined, but has remained above pre-pandemic levels.
“The most recent data — the week of October 4 — show striking variation among medical specialties in the percentage of visits that are conducted via telemedicine,” wrote Ateev Mehrotra, MD, MPH, of Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues. “Telemedicine use in many surgical specialties is very low, but in other specialties, especially behavioral health, its use remains robust.”
Across outpatient providers, telemedicine use varied: about one-third never adopted telemedicine at all. From April to September, many shifted from heavy or moderate to minimal telemedicine use.
The analysis was based on data from more than 50,000 outpatient providers that are clients of the healthcare technology company Phreesia and was conducted by the Commonwealth Fund, Phreesia, and Harvard University researchers. Providers included independent single-provider practices, multi-specialty groups, federally qualified health centers, and large health systems. Visits were captured from Feb. 1 through Oct. 10, 2020.
CMS Expands Telehealth Services
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) added 11 new telehealth services Medicare will reimburse during the COVID-19 public health emergency, including cardiac and pulmonary rehab, the agency announced on October 14. Medicare will start paying eligible practitioners who offer these services effective immediately.
In addition, CMS is providing extra support to state Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) agencies to expand telehealth access. “Medicaid patients should not be forgotten, and today’s announcement promotes telehealth for them as well,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said.
The 11 new services mean Medicare will pay for a total of 144 telehealth services during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The emergency, which was set to expire later this month, was renewed for an additional 90 days on October 2.
The expansion builds on steps CMS already has…