CDC: 154% Increase in Telehealth Visits in March 2020

Nov 6, 2020

Last week the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) released a report stated there was a 154% increase in televisits in the last week of March 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. The CDC inferred that this sharp rise might have been related to pandemic-related telehealth policy changes and public health guidance.

Using patient data obtained from four large national telehealth providers, the CDC discovered the number of telehealth encounters. From January through March, the “early pandemic period,” approximately 1.6 million telehealth encounters occurred. This was a 50% increase overall from the approximately 1 million visits recorded during the same period in 2019.

How and Why?

Once again, the CDC relates the increase to the pandemic and its implications- a decline in in-person visits. Factors implicated in the report included state-issued stay-at-home orders, and CDC’s guidance for social distancing.

Also, relaxations of federal regulations around virtual care, including the originating site rule and reimbursement policies, added to the numbers.  In addition, the regulatory waivers from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had a contributory effect. 

The emergency policies fostered improved telehealth services for payers, providers, and patients based from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. They delivered more than 34.5 million telehealth services from March through June. This suggested a 2,532% increase in contrast with services provided from March through June 2019.

So far, So Good

According to the CDC report, “telehealth might have multiple benefits for public and individual health during the COVID-19 pandemic.” In other words, not only patients and health care providers enjoyed the advantages of telemedicine. The general public benefitted from some of its secondary effects.

“The increased availability of telehealth services also might have reduced disease exposure for staff members and patients,” the authors noted. Other benefits highlighted included preserved scare supplies of PPE and minimized patient surge on facilities. Since individuals who sought telehealth in the early pandemic period were managed at home, the number of patients seeking care at health care facilities reduced.

Telehealth has proven to play a vital role during public health emergencies. In this case, it has played a prominent role in pandemic planning and response. Telehealth might also continue to significantly deliver care during and after the pandemic

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