After 3 Months of Declines, Telehealth Use Stabilizes

By John Commins

Telehealth as a percentage of all medical claims rose 2% nationally from April to May after dropping for the three previous months, according to nonprofit FAIR Health’s Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker.

Overall, telehealth represented 5% of all medical claims in May, up from 4.9% in April, according to tracker data, which examines privately insured plans, including Medicare Advantage, and excluding Medicare fee-for-service and Medicaid.

Before May, telehealth as a percentage of medical claims had steadily fallen from February through April.

Regionally, the South (5.6%) and the West (4.8%) saw the largest increases in telehealth claims, while the Northeast and the Midwest saw declines of 5.4% and 1.7%, respectively.

Substance use disorders were among the top five telehealth diagnoses nationally for the first time, coming in fifth place. The pattern was consistent with reports of increased misuse of opioids and stimulants during the COVID-19 pandemic, FAIR said.

The percentage of telehealth claim lines accounted for by mental health conditions rose nationally and in every region in May 2021. Mental health conditions remained the number one telehealth claim nationally and in every region.

Acute respiratory diseases and infections climbed in the national rankings of telehealth diagnoses from number four to number three, joining the top five diagnoses in the Northeast and West. The diagnosis had already been in the top five in the Midwest and South in April and continued there in May.

FAIR said the rise in respiratory claims suggested a return to non-COVID respiratory conditions, such as colds and bronchitis, as cases of COVID-19 fell.

In May 2021, the top five telehealth procedure codes by utilization remained the same as in April nationally and in every region but the Midwest. There, CPT®2 99213, an established patient outpatient visit with a total time of 20-29 minutes, fell from second to fourth place.

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.