Telehealth demand starts to soften

As healthcare offices closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth surged. Now that states are reopening, the tide is starting to ebb, according to a recent report from Trilliant.

During COVID-19, roughly 38 million Americans generated 96 million telehealth visits, according to the report, “Trends Shaping the Post-Pandemic Health Economy.” Visit counts soared from fewer than 2 million at the end of 2019 to a peak of more than 12 million by April 2020. By January 2021, when the U.S. began rolling out its vaccine program, telehealth sessions dipped below 10 million again. 

As demand wanes, telehealth service providers are projecting the service will last as a membership service.

“Telehealth services are increasingly being commoditized as a ‘membership’ good that will be adopted by a small segment of Americans,” the report reads.

Teladoc reported that its U.S. paid membership will land in the range of 52 million to 54 million members and fee-only access will be available to 22 million to 23 million individuals, including 2 million to 3 million individuals on a temporary basis, according to its 2021 fourth quarter and year-end earnings results. For fiscal year 2021, the company expects to conduct between 12 million and 13 million telehealth visits.

Some states with tight COVID-19 restrictions reported the highest growth rates in telehealth during the pandemic, including California (1860% growth rate during the pandemic peak in 2020), Massachusetts (1694%), Oregon (1549%), Hawaii (1531%) and Vermont (1512%). Of the top 10 markets with the biggest telehealth demand, six were in California, according to the report.

Even states that saw relatively lower growth rates had triple-digit spikes in telehealth demand. North Dakota had the lowest growth rate during that time218%followed by Wyoming (279%), Mississippi (293%), Iowa (367%) and Arizona (380%). Of the top 10 markets for lowest demand, six were located within Arizona.

With California and other states finally reopening and loosening pandemic restrictions and lockdown measures, the telehealth demand in those areas is finally letting up as well. 

“California experienced both the highest absolute and percentage increase in telehealth utilization during the peak pandemic period,” the report reads.

While many Americans put routine care and elective procedures on hold during COVID-19, one of the biggest demands for telehealth was behavioral health. Forced with lockdown measures and dizzying upsets to everyday life virtually overnight, the pandemic also had a big impact on the mental health of many Americans. As much as 35% of telehealth visits were categorized as mental diseases and disorders. That’s compared to just the 8% proportion for each of the next four most popular categories: Endocrine, Nutritional and Metabolic System; Circulatory System; Musculoskeletal System and Connective Tissue; and Digestive, Kidney and Urinary Tract System.

Additionally, women between 30 and 39 were the top users of telehealth across all periods of the pandemic. Further, the vast majority of telehealth visits for anxiety were commercially insured women. 

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