Contributor: Telehealth Utilization Falls 16% Nationally From January to February 2021

Robin Gelburd, JD, president of FAIR Health, discusses the sudden decline in telehealth utilization during the first month of 2021.

Telehealth claim lines1 fell 15.7% nationally, decreasing from 7 percent of medical claim lines in January 2021 to 5.9% in February, according to FAIR Health’s Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker (Exhibit 1). It was the first month-to-month drop in national telehealth utilization since September 2020. Telehealth usage also declined in all 4 US census regions, with the greatest drop in the West, where the decrease was 18.3%. The data represent the privately insured population, excluding Medicare and Medicaid.

Exhibit 1. Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker, January versus February 2021, United States

(Source: FAIR Health)

Another change from January to February 2021 was the disappearance of COVID-19 from the top five telehealth diagnoses. In January, COVID-19 had been on that list nationally and in all regions except the Midwest, but in February, it was absent from the list nationally and in every region. The change may have been related to the national drop in COVID-19 cases reported to the CDC in February.

In the Midwest, substance use disorders joined the list of top 5 telehealth diagnoses in February 2021; the same diagnosis had been on the list in the Northeast since January. Also in February, developmental disorders joined the top five telehealth diagnoses in the South, and diabetes mellitus, as well as endocrine and metabolic disorders, joined the top five in the West.

Mental health conditions continued to be the number one telehealth diagnosis nationally and in every region. Within that category, there was one change of note in February 2021: Post-traumatic stress disorder, previously absent from the list of top five mental health diagnoses nationally and in every region, became the fifth most common mental health diagnosis in the Midwest, displacing bipolar disorder (Exhibit 2).

Exhibit 2. Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker, January versus February 2021, Midwest

(Source: FAIR Health)

In the Northeast and West, CPT®2 90833, psychotherapy performed with evaluation and management visit, 30 minutes, joined the list of top five telehealth procedure codes in February 2021. Although other psychotherapy codes were on the national and regional lists of top five procedure codes, CPT 90833 appeared only in the Northeast and West.

About the Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker

Launched in May 2020 as a free service, the Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker uses FAIR Health data to track how telehealth is evolving from month to month. An interactive map of the four US census regions allows the user to view an infographic on telehealth in a specific month in the nation as a whole or in individual regions. Each infographic shows month-to-month changes in volume of telehealth claim lines, top five telehealth procedure codes, top five telehealth diagnoses (or diagnostic categories) and top five granular diagnoses within the most common diagnostic category.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, FAIR Health’s Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker continues to monitor the evolution of telehealth in that context. This is one of many ways we pursue our mission of bringing transparency to healthcare information.

For the Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker, click here.

About the Author

Robin Gelburd, JD, is the President of FAIR Health, a national, independent nonprofit organization with the mission of bringing transparency to healthcare costs and health insurance information. FAIR Health possesses the nation’s largest collection of private healthcare claims data, which includes over 33 billion claim records and is growing at a rate of over 2 billion claim records a year. Certified by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) as a national Qualified Entity, FAIR Health also receives data representing the experience of all individuals enrolled in traditional Medicare Parts A, B and D; FAIR Health includes among the private claims data in its database, data on Medicare Advantage enrollees. Ms. Gelburd is a nationally recognized expert on healthcare policy, data and transparency.

References

1. A claim line is an individual service or procedure listed on an insurance claim.

2. CPT © 2020 American Medical Association (AMA). All rights reserved.