Jul 22, 2021 - Health

Virtual doctor visits shrivel

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

One pandemic-era phenomenon that may have peaked: virtual doctor visits.

What's new: Nearly one-quarter of American adults had a virtual doctor appointment within the past month, according to the latest Census Bureau survey.

  • The share has steadily eased — slightly, by a total of 1 percentage point — since the Census Bureau began asking the question in April.

Telemedicine was already shriveling up at this time last year, when it accounted for 21% of doctor visits, per electronic record health company Epic.

  • Compare that to 69% in April 2020, near the onset of the pandemic.

The big picture: Patients are returning for the care pushed off when the pandemic hit, quarterly earnings reports out this week from hospital operators show.

  • Almost none of that care could have been done virtually, but it's one sign America's hesitancy about in-person care is ebbing.

What to watch: Medicare is proposing coverage of certain telehealth services be extended through 2023.

  • It's part of a test run to evaluate what "should be permanently" added to the coverage list — one factor that could encourage its use.

The intrigue: Insurers want telehealth to stick around. It's cheaper for them than paying out claims for pricier, in-person visits, as Axios' Bob Herman notes.

What's next: Fresh updates on virtual care use as the economy opens back up are coming.

  • Publicly traded telehealth companies — like Teladoc, Amwell and LifeMD — start to roll out quarterly results as early as next week.

The bottom line: Way more people are taking advantage of telehealth now compared to pre-pandemic times.

  • It provided more options and flexibility for care, but that care has its limits.

Axios' Bob Herman contributed reporting.

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