It’s fair to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives and is still forcing us to find new ways of being. New ways of being together, of being apart and being connected. Last April was the first time my family connected with our primary care provider over Zoom. We were not alone.
Comagine Health’s analytics team has been monitoring the impact of the pandemic and tracking the rates of virtual visits to provide insights into observed trends in utilization, cost and quality measures.
Before the pandemic, in January 2020, just 0.5% of primary care medical visits and 2.5% of specialist visits in Oregon occurred via telehealth, which includes video conferences and phone calls.
During the pandemic, these rates have increased substantially but inconsistently. In April 2020, 47% of primary care and 76% of specialist visits occurred virtually. Preliminary data suggests that those numbers declined to 35% in May and 23% in June for primary care visits. Virtual specialty visits fell to 66% in May and 56% in June.
We anticipate telehealth usage rates will continue to fluctuate until finding a new normal. As we monitor these fluctuations, we are also partnering with stakeholders to better understand their telehealth challenges and offer insights to help them take action.
Three main questions have emerged:
What do patients think? In a recent survey, 68% of adults reported having a virtual visit — either video or phone — with their mental health provider in 2020. Of those with a virtual visit, 65% were either satisfied or strongly satisfied with their experience.
Nevertheless, 63% of respondents said they would still have preferred to see their provider in person. 28% noted they were less comfortable talking to their provider virtually or felt that privacy in virtual sessions was a concern. While childcare, travel and scheduling might be easier with telehealth, there may be no substitute for face-to-face interactions.
How does the quality of care change with variable telehealth offerings? It’s still too early to say with much certainty, but this is a critical question as many pay-for-performance programs incentivize year-over-year improvement in quality measures. How will changes in service delivery affect performance, and how will this impact alternative payment methodologies in the future?
Will sustained telehealth offerings close the inequitable gap in health care access for historically disadvantaged populations? Or will current disparities in access to high-speed broadband and internet-compatible devices expand inequities in access to care? These may be the most important questions, and it’s crucial that we evaluate the advantages of telehealth against the disadvantages it may perpetuate.
If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our analytics services, please contact us.