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What’s Next for Telehealth?

New KFF/Epic Research analyzes pandemic trends, future outlook

February 10, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way patients receive care, both in-person and through telehealth.

A new review released today from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found that telehealth use had receded from its pandemic-highs, but remains a significantly larger share of care when compared to pre-COVID-19 levels.

“Before the pandemic, most employer health plans provided at least some coverage for services delivered through telehealth but very few enrollees used these services,” the research brief notes.

The analysis reviews telehealth use among millions of patients from March 2019 through August 2021. The data comes from 889 hospitals and 19,420 clinics using Epic platforms in all 50 states.

Among the key findings from the KFF analysis:

  • Changing Trends:  Prior to the pandemic, telehealth accounted for less than 1 percent of outpatient visits before climbing to 13 percent during the pandemic’s first six months. Usage declined to about 8 percent of outpatient visits a year into the pandemic
  • Deferred care:  Total outpatient visits (both in-person and via telehealth) made a comeback between March and August 2021 and were 19 percent higher than the same period before the pandemic
  • Older adults:  The share of adults 65 and older using telehealth for outpatient visits has been lower than other age groups, declining from 10 percent between March and August 2020 to 5 percent for the same period during 2021
  • Urban and rural comparison:  Residents in rural and urban areas had similar rates for telehealth outpatient visits during the first six months of the pandemic, but usage had declined slightly more for those in urban settings
  • Chronic conditions:  Management of chronic conditions via outpatient telehealth care receded significantly during 2021

Researchers continue to evaluate the emerging trends in telehealth related to access, cost, quality, and outcomes.

The KFF analysis notes that regulatory flexibilities at the state and federal level, as well as improved insurance coverage, have helped expand telehealth access during the pandemic. The future of these policies and coverage changes will “unquestionably also affect telehealth use in the future,” the report said.

Throughout the pandemic, Pennsylvania’s hospitals have used telehealth to safely care for patients across the commonwealth. HAP supports policies and legislation that improve access to these vital services during the pandemic and beyond.

The research brief is available for review online.