Aug 29, 2020 - Health

The shifting geography of telemedicine

Data graphic showing the year-over-year change in the telehealth industry.
Note: States with looser restrictions defined as CO, FL, GA, MS, MT, SC. States with tighter restrictions defined as CA, CT, NJ, NY, VT, WA. Data: Second Measure; Chart: Axios Visuals

Data shows that while telemedicine has boomed during the pandemic, its growth has varied depending on different states' lockdown policies.

Why it matters: As the pandemic begins to come under control, how lasting the telemedicine boom will be depends ultimately on whether the services can truly replace doctors.

By the numbers: A report from the consumer analytics company Second Measure demonstrates that the demand for telehealth services has skyrocketed since pandemic lockdowns began.

  • Year-over-year growth reached a five-year high of 287% in the week of May 11 and has since averaged weekly year-over-year growth of over 150%.
  • Not surprisingly, consumers have largely turned to telehealth because doctors' offices were closed or because they feared that in-person visits could expose them to the coronavirus.

Yes, but: Growth has actually been stronger in states that had looser COVID-19 restrictions than in stricter states, a trend that grew more pronounced in recent months.

  • One possible explanation is that as the coronavirus came under control in states with stricter restrictions like New York, consumers began to feel more comfortable going back to a doctor's office, notes Liyin Yeo of Second Measure.
  • The more recent increase in telemedicine use in looser states like Georgia also coincided with a spike in COVID-19 cases, which may have discouraged consumers from in-person visits while making them more likely to need virtual care.

The bottom line: The pandemic will end — eventually — and when it does, we'll see whether telemedicine remains the future of health care.

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