Telehealth use drops as hype expires


  • Telemedicine claims as a proportion of all commercial health insurance claims decreased by 5.1% nationwide from February to March, after a steeper decline of 15.7% from January to February as vaccination efforts increased and COVID-19 increased. Cases declined as a result.
  • Telehealth claims accounted for 7% of all medical claims positions in January, before falling to 5.9% in February and 5.6% in March, suggesting a steady slowdown in virtual care demand this year.
  • The historically high usage of telemedicine over the past year has resulted in an unprecedented inflow of cash into the sector and an increase in mergers and acquisitions among virtual care players looking to gain market share.
  • Doctors using telemedicine software are not sure of its value to patients and believe telehealth may pose risks.

The hype around telehealth has followed a projected pattern. Back when everyone was afraid to go to a doctor’s office, I said that the use of telehealth would decline and level off. It looks like that’s coming true as the use of telehealth continues to drop.

Telehealth faces a huge barrier in winning over HCPs because of its shortcomings. While telehealth can be used for routine visits, such as getting an Rx renewal, it’s not a substitute for a trained diagnostician. As one thought leader told me, “I need to see patients in person when they come in for a specific problem.” Another said, “if I talk to a patient in person, I can determine where the conversation needs to go as far as tests and follow-ups.”

There is a lot at stake here.  According to Verified Market Research, the Global Telehealth Market was valued at USD 21.17 Billion in 2019 and is projected to reach USD 71.44 Billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 16.4% from 2020 to 2027. Business Insider, however, identifies a key issue “more than 50% of consumers plan on using telehealth post-pandemic, per Amwell’s 2020 “Physician and Consumer Survey” of 2,000 US adults.

Will telehealth completely disappear?

In short, no, but like any new technology, the pretenders will have to be weeded out from the ones who are going to work with both providers and insurers to iron out the key challenges. In addition, HCPs will need to see clinical studies on telehealth to answer such questions as “will telehealth provide better outcomes?” and “how will I get reimbursed for telehealth use?”.

An Oncology practice uses telehealth to talk with patients who have just undergone chemo to check on their status and help them deal with the side effects. They have even developed an app that can be used on a patient’s smartphone or tablet to make them accessible. I believe this is one area where telehealth will have a huge advantage over office visits.

What about pharma?

I recently spoke to an Oncology practice leader in Georgia are who has five offices. He said that many patients opted to postpone treatments if they weren’t immediately life-threatening during the pandemic, but now patients are coming back. When I asked how a pharma company could help, he said, “it would be great if a biotech company could offer a short, detailed videos that help patients both understand the treatment and give them tips on how to manage the side effects.” But, he went on to say “it can’t be promotional in any way although a message to stay on treatment would be welcomed”.

There are some opportunities for pharma to partner with telehealth providers, but the challenging issue of ROI could prevent many companies from implementing a telehealth strategy. If, however, a clinical study indicated that a telehealth intervention led to better outcomes via compliance, then I believe they would start to experiment.

Telehealth is here and will stay although its use will decline and level off. Some specialties are made for telehealth, others are not but pharma needs to explore options to help patients get the care they need at THEIR convenience.