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Research Shows Telehealth Service Use, Availability on the Rise

More patients are using telehealth services, particularly for mental health treatment, indicating a growing availability of this alternative method of care delivery.

Research shows telehealth service use is on the rise

Source: Thinkstock

By Jessica Kent

Telemedicine is on the rise as telehealth services are becoming increasingly available to patients across the country, especially among those seeking mental healthcare.

FAIR Health, a nonprofit organization, recently released a white paper analyzing the trends involving place of service in recent years, particularly in alternative places of service such as telehealth.

The organization drew on its database of over 25 billion privately billed claim records to develop the FH Healthcare Indicators resource, which evaluates changes in demographics, utilization, diagnoses, procedures and costs.

The report showed that from 2011 to 2016, telehealth service use increased substantially, especially in rural areas (960 percent). In comparison, telehealth use grew by 629 percent in urban areas, and by 643 percent nationally.

However, more recently urban usage has grown to match and even surpass rural usage. Between 2015 and 2016, urban areas saw a jump from just over 25 percent to over 45 percent, while rural growth increased from 35 percent in 2015 to just over 40 percent in 2016.

In 2016, the states with the greatest number of claims lines with telehealth usage were Massachusetts, California, Texas, South Dakota and Minnesota.

The report stated that telehealth was most associated with individuals between 31 and 60 years old, who accounted for 56 percent of distribution claim lines with telehealth usage in 2016. The peak age groups for telehealth were 41 to 50 and 51 to 60, each at 19 percent.

The results also showed that patients overwhelmingly use telehealth for mental health reasons. Mental health accounted for 31 percent of the telehealth claim line distribution in 2016. Acute respiratory infections were the second most common use for telehealth, accounting for 15 percent of claim line distribution.

These findings make sense when considering past research on mental healthcare in the US, which shows that the growth of the patient population has outpaced the number of available psychiatrists, particularly in rural areas.

Telehealth provides a practical solution to the problem, enabling patients to receive the treatment they need no matter where they live. It is crucial for healthcare stakeholders to recognize industry shifts such as this one, the report asserted.  

“Given the extraordinary role of the healthcare sector in the US economy, it has become more important than ever to identify and understand the trends and shifts within that sector.”

“Healthcare stakeholders need information that will enable them to discern the fundamental indicators and patterns that are otherwise often obscure, and to make decisions on that basis,” the report continued.

Knowing that more patients are seeking care through telehealth can allow providers to make informed decisions about care management and coordination.

This information could also incite more medical schools to include more about telehealth in their curriculums, the report pointed out.

In addition, these findings may help patients develop their own strategies for seeking care and help them understand that an alternative method like telehealth is a viable option.

Ultimately, FAIR Health expects that this report will advise decisions made at every level of the healthcare industry.

“FAIR Health believes that the information in FH Healthcare Indicators will be useful to all healthcare stakeholders, including payors, providers, government officials, policy makers and others.”


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