SAN FRANCISCO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--A new study published in The Journal of Medical Internet Research shows that the largest increases in telehealth visits during the COVID pandemic were attributable to scheduled behavioral health (therapy and psychiatry) and chronic illness visits. Visit volumes for both topped visits related to COVID-19 symptoms or exposure.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School, Doctor On Demand and RAND Corporation studied how the number of virtual visits, reasons for visits, and patients served changed over time, comparing February through June 2019 to the same four month period in 2020. In the 18 months prior to the pandemic, Doctor On Demand witnessed a steady increase in utilization for more complex, longitudinal care, although many still associated telehealth platforms with urgent care, or one-time transactional care. The study’s findings suggest that, spurred by COVID-19, telemedicine is providing crucial longitudinal care for chronic health conditions, as well as helping to address gaps in access to in-person care worsened by the pandemic.
“The onset of COVID-19 acted as an accelerator for much wider adoption of virtual care for behavioral health, chronic illness and primary care more broadly,” said Dr. Ian Tong, chief medical officer at Doctor On Demand. “As the peak of the pandemic wanes, we expect to continue to see high levels of utilization for these more severe, ongoing conditions, and as a business, will continue to invest in expanding our diverse clinical team to best support long-term patient provider relationships.”
Key findings include:
- The total visit volume increased 59% above the baseline from March through April 7, 2020.
- Higher relative increases were observed for unscheduled behavioral health (109% above baseline) and chronic illness visits through April (131% above the baseline).
- In 2020, visits among urban residents peaked at 58% above baseline, whereas visits among rural residents peaked at 64% above baseline.
“We found that telemedicine visits peaked at the same time that emergency department visits in the USA were at their lowest point. This suggests that telemedicine was an important tool to support social distancing and could serve patients who were nervous about being seen in-person during a pandemic,” said Dr. Lori Uscher Pines, a health services researcher at RAND.
The study was led by Dr. Lori Uscher-Pines, senior policy researcher in the health care division at RAND, and Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, associate professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School, with support from Doctor On Demand’s James Thompson, Dr. Prentiss Taylor, Dr. Kristin Dean, Dr. Tony Yuan and Dr. Ian Tong.
To conduct this study, Doctor On Demand generated data in an aggregate form, as a percentage change from the baseline, and specified four types of visits: respiratory illness (including potential COVID-19 symptoms), chronic illness, unscheduled behavioral health services (offered within the urgent care service staffed by trained primary care providers), and scheduled behavioral health services (including therapy and psychiatry).
The full study is available here.
About Doctor On Demand
Doctor On Demand provides Total Virtual Care™ for the way people live today. Our nationwide practice of dedicated clinicians and our innovative technology platform is purpose-built to deliver better experiences, better cost efficiency and better outcomes for our patients and partners. Our full suite of personalized Total Virtual Care™ services include primary care, integrated behavioral health, everyday & urgent care, chronic condition management and prevention. 24/7 triage, navigation, and ongoing care coordination ensure patients get the right care, at the right time. Doctor On Demand partners with leading health insurers and employers to deliver these services to more than 98 million Americans across commercial, Medicare and Medicaid. For more information, visit www.doctorondemand.com.