May 20, 2021 - Health

Telephones played a key role in pandemic telehealth

How telehealth was accessed
Reproduced from KFF; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

More than a quarter of all Medicare beneficiaries had a telehealth visit between the summer and fall of 2020 and, for more than half of them, that visit took place over an actual telephone, a KFF Analysis found.

Why it matters: "Telehealth" usually conjures the idea of video visits from a computer or a smartphone. However, for many seniors, the telephone was a key connection to care made available during the pandemic.

  • Its long-term future is unclear because of reimbursement questions.

Details: Among those Medicare beneficiaries who had a telehealth visit, a majority (56%) report accessing care using a telephone only.

  • A smaller group of Medicare beneficiaries reported accessing telehealth via video visit (28%) or through both video and telephone (16%).
  • The number of Medicare beneficiaries who used a telephone only to access telehealth was also higher among Hispanic beneficiaries (61%), those living in rural areas (65%), and those enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid (67%).

State of play: Under Medicare's existing telehealth benefit, a telehealth visit must be conducted with two-way audio/video communications.

What's next: Legislation has been brought up in both the House and Senate supporting audio-only telehealth policies — an area with big implications for technological access for seniors — as well as racial parity and the bigger ongoing question of broadband access.

Go deeper