The coronavirus pandemic has changed many aspects of the American health care system, but nothing changed quite as drastically as telemedicine’s rise.
While virtual care existed before COVID-19, the practice boomed after state-mandated, stay-at-home orders and have since remained strong.
Before the pandemic, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts received about 200 telehealth claims per day. That number reached up to 40,0000 claims per day from April to May 2020, and the insurer is still receiving about 30,000 claims per day almost a year later, according to spokesperson Amy McHugh.
Athenahealth, a health tech company, released an interactive dashboard that delivered insights on telehealth trends from 18.4 million virtual appointments by 60,000 providers.
“The pandemic has necessitated a new era in medicine in which telehealth appointments are a core aspect of the patient-provider relationship,” said Jessica Sweeney-Platt, the company’s vice president of research and editorial strategy.
Appointments for mental health control virtual healthcare
Telemedicine had the most significant impact on mental health visits, with approximately 33% of appointments held virtually, according to Athena health’s dashboard data.
McHugh said mental health appointments made up about 53% of the 7.5 million telehealth claims processed by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts since March 2020.
Consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic – such as job insecurity or the loss of a loved one – has had a significant impact on Americans’ mental health, with anxiety and depression becoming the most common issues, experts say.
Primary care also influences virtual healthcare
After mental health, primary care was the second largest percentage of telehealth appointments, with 17% of primary care visits being held virtually, according to the Athena health dashboard.
“A lot of primary care is talking,” said Dr Katherine Dallow, vice president of clinical programs and strategy at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. “It’s meeting them where they are, hearing their concerns.”
Most of the physical aspects of a primary care visit – such as measuring weight and blood pressure – can be done at home with inexpensive equipment. Other physical examinations only require a camera and can be easily diagnosed virtually.