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Increase in telehealth services impacts hospitals’ plans for 2021 and beyond

The pandemic outbreak in early 2020, coupled with the announcement that CMS will reimburse clinicians who provide telehealth services to Medicare patients, has led to a telehealth boom in the industry.

This increased usage of telehealth services is evident and substantiated in research conducted by data analysts at Perception Health. When comparing service line numbers from just commercial insurance in Perception Health's all claims database, the numbers of telehealth patients and charges increased dramatically from the first six months of 2019 to the same period in 2020.

Service Line
Patients January-June 2019
Patients January-June 2020
Change %
Charges January-June 2019
Charges January-June 2020
Change %
Telehealth
102,878
2,033,262
1,876%
$81,303,980
$1,093,641,708
1,245%
Source: Commercial insurance claims data, January 2019 through June 2020.

Since the start of the pandemic in the U.S., CMS has added more than 135 services / billing codes to the Medicare Telehealth services list. While originally planned to be temporary additions, many Senate leaders support making some Covid-19 telehealth policies permanent.

With both efficiency and patient safety in mind, many hospitals and health systems have ramped up their production of telehealth services.

For example, Stanford Children’s Health is now completing more than 800 virtual visits a day. By seeing more patients virtually, there is less risk for the spread of the virus, says Natalie Pageler, MD, chief medical information officer at Stanford Children's Health.

The telehealth visits allow providers to visit patients in the comfort of their own homes, which cuts down travel time for patients and decreases emergency room crowding. The technology also enables outpatient clinics to offer pain treatment and other services that don't require a physical exam for each visit. The hospital even uses telehealth for inpatients in isolation as a way to lower the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies that may be scarce.

As hospitals evaluate the growth of telehealth and try to forecast its future usage, many are making plans to upgrade their infrastructure to handle the expected increases.

Some health systems, like Ochsner Health, already have telehealth programs established. "We had a very-well established telehealth program going into the Covid-19 crisis," says says Jennifer Humbert, AVP of telemedicine development and virtual inpatient monitoring at Ochsner CareConnect 360, in a recent article published by eHealthcare Strategy.

As for future planning, Humbert says they expect their telehealth services will soon make up 20% of their patient visits. "We’re actively looking at our market data to understand how our market responded during the crisis and how they’re going to respond post-crisis,” says Humbert.

How Perception Health Can Help
For healthcare executives who want to look at current market data to better understand how their communities are using telehealth services, take a look at our Telehealth Analysis. Customized by analyzing medical claims records in your market / CBSA, this report will show you the top organizations billing for telehealth services and the billing codes being used. Read more and contact us.