Telemedicine projected to account for 20% of medical visits in 2020, report says

By Christopher Cheney

The volume and financial value of telemedicine visits will increase significantly in 2020 due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a new report.

The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred widespread adoption of telemedicine along several fronts at health systems, hospitals, and physician practices—primarily over concern about the spread of the novel coronavirus in healthcare settings. Telemedicine visits for nonemergency care also have been shown to be efficient and effective from both the healthcare provider and patient perspectives.

The new report, which was published last week by the Doximity physician network, is based on three resources: a randomized survey of 2,000 American adults to collect patient data, Doximity network data to reflect “physician adoption insights,” and data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and commercial insurance claims to gauge the telemedicine market.

“Physicians have found telemedicine has served as a vital lifeline for practices negatively impacted financially by the pandemic. In our view, the rapid uptake of telemedicine has important structural implications for the U.S. healthcare system,” Christopher Whaley, PhD, lead author of the report and assistant adjunct professor at the University of California’s Berkeley School of Public Health, said in a prepared statement.

Telemedicine market

The report features three data points on the telemedicine market:

  • About 20% of all medical visits will be conducted via telemedicine this year
  • The financial value of telemedicine visits this year will be more than $29.3 billion
  • The financial value of telemedicine visits is projected to be $106 billion by 2023

Physician perspectives

The report includes three data points on physician adoption of telemedicine:

  • In a telemedicine report Doximity published last year, the number of physicians who self-reported telehealth as a skill increased annually by 20% between 2015 and 2018. From 2019 to 2020, the number of physicians reporting telehealth as a skill increased 38%.
  • Female physicians are adopting telemedicine at a higher rate than their male colleagues. In last year’s Doximity telemedicine report, female physicians engaged in telemedicine job ads at a rate 10% higher than male physicians. This year’s report found female physicians are using telemedicine at a rate 24% higher than male physicians.
  • This year, the top two specialties using telemedicine are endocrinology and rheumatology. “Treating long-term chronic conditions like diabetes and arthritis require frequent patient visits, but they don’t always need to be in-person. For patients that require long-term care, telemedicine tools can reduce taxing trips to hospitals or clinics,” the new report says.

Patient perspectives

The new report includes several data points on patient utilization of telemedicine:

  • Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 14% of Americans had participated in a telemedicine visit at least once.
  • Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the number of Americans participating in at least one telemedicine visit has increased 57%. The number of Americans with chronic conditions who have participated in a telemedicine visit at least once has increased 77%.
  • Once the pandemic has passed, 23% of survey respondents report they plan to participate in telemedicine visits.
  • Since the pandemic began, 27% of survey respondents report feeling more comfortable using telemedicine.
  • More than a quarter of survey respondents reported feeling telemedicine visits have the same or better quality compared to in-person doctor visits. More than half of survey respondents with chronic conditions reported telemedicine visits have the same or better quality compared to in-person doctor visits.
  • Nearly half of survey respondents reported cell phones are the preferred device for conducting telemedicine visits, with 39% preferring laptops.

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.

See more AQCC articles on Telemedicine here

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COVID-19, Telemedicine