Use of telemedicine to surge in US as regulations change in response to coronavirus

Use of telemedicine in the US has been low to date. However, it is expected that demand for these services will increase dramatically over the next few months due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

Telemedicine has been touted as a critical strategy during the COVID-19 emergency to limit the risk of person-to-person transmission of the virus, prevent emergency rooms from being inundated, reduce barriers to screening, and allowing those with moderate symptoms to be treated from home. Teladoc Health, a telehealth provider, announced that patient visit volume had increased by 50% since the previous week and was continuing to rise.

Kathryn Whitney, MSc, Director of Thematic Analysis at GlobalData, comments: “Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, telemedicine had never reached its full potential in the US, with several barriers preventing its widespread uptake. These include lack of reimbursement and restrictions affecting access for rural populations, general lack of awareness of these services, and the desire of the sick to see their physician in person.”

Since early March, regulations in the US governing the use of telemedicine have changed regularly, which will expand access to services during the COVID-19 emergency, particularly for Medicare beneficiaries who are deemed at high risk for the virus. In certain states, including California and New York, officials have also announced that payers must offer telehealth services as part of their emergency plans. In Massachusetts, payers must cover the COVID-19 testing and treatment via telehealth, and cannot impose cost sharing via co-pays, deductibles, or coinsurance, and prior authorization is not required to receive treatment via telehealth.

Whitney continues: “Recent changes to regulations by the US Government will remove many of the financial barriers to telehealth and drive the use of these services, particularly among older and vulnerable populations. People will also become more aware of these types of services, given amount of information being disseminated by the government, hospitals, healthcare systems and payers. 

“As more US cities and states begin to lock down and social distancing becomes the new normal for the foreseeable future, Americans are likely to change their views on telemedicine. With the ongoing risk of virus transmission, people will be eager to avoid hospitals and get screened and receive care from the safety of their own homes.”

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