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New Analysis: Telehealth grew to 22 percent of ambulatory visits during January 2021

May 04, 2021

Recent analysis from Vizient and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) highlights how health care providers transformed to meet patient needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, telehealth represented just 0.3 percent of ambulatory patient visits. By January 2021, about 22 percent of ambulatory patient visits took place via telehealth, according to the report.

“Overall, the pandemic has increased the level of comfort with telehealth for both patients and providers,” said David Levine, MD, FACEP, group senior vice president, advanced analytics and product management for Vizient. “We believe the expectation by patients is these services will continue to be available with increased usage across many specialties.”

The report from Vizient and AAMC studied 66 million patient visits across 96,500 providers, showing the widespread adoption of telehealth across the health care community. Specialists in behavioral health and neurology have retained the largest share of their virtual care, with 68 percent and 40 percent of visits happening via telehealth during January 2021, respectively.

Among the key takeaways from the report:

  • Prior to March 2020, telehealth represented just 0.3 percent of ambulatory visits. After rapidly rising at the start of the pandemic, virtual care ranged from between 19 and 25 percent of visits through January 2021
  • During April 2020, specialty areas including primary care, cardiology, behavioral health, and neurology performed more than 70 percent of their ambulatory visits virtually
  • Total ambulatory visits dropped 41 percent during April 2020, with virtual visits accounting for 65 percent of completed visits. About 200,000 patient visits would not have occurred without the shift to virtual care
  • Medicare patients were more likely than patients with commercial insurance or Medicaid to use phone visits. Medicaid patients had fewer virtual visits than commercially insured and Medicare patients

At the outset of the pandemic, state and federal waivers and flexibilities expanded access to telehealth, allowing patients to access appointments from their homes and increasing the list of providers who were able to see patients virtually. These changes have ensured safe care and helped patients connect with their providers.

During 2021, HAP will continue to advocate for telehealth policies and legislation that build off the progress from the past year and improve access to outstanding care.

For more information, contact Kate Slatt, HAP’s vice president, innovative payment and care delivery.