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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The use of telemedicine has exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic, and experts see the changes remaining even after the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Given its heavily regulated and fragmented nature, health care tends to be slow to adopt innovation. But the pandemic has shown Americans the advantages of communicating with doctors remotely — and health insurance companies are paying attention.

What's new: According to FAIR Health's Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker, which draws from 31 billion private health care claim records, telemedicine claim lines increased an astounding 4,347% year-over-year in March.

Telemedicine services have been available for years, but health concerns around the pandemic combined with the fact that most doctor's offices and hospitals were effectively off-limits to non-COVID-19 patients have led millions of Americans to use their smartphone to access remote care for the first time.

  • The stock price of the leading telemedicine company Teladoc has risen by more than 30% since the beginning of March.

Telemedicine is only one aspect of the sclerotic health care sector that has been shaken up by the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Wearable devices like the Apple Watch are being used in academic studies to predict when COVID-19 cases might occur.
  • Jeff Semenchuk, chief innovation officer at Blue Shield of California, says the pandemic has pushed his company to digitize health care whenever possible. That includes efforts to make electronic patient health records more easily accessible and to simplify the laborious process of payment claims.
"COVID-19 has accelerated what we're doing with innovation around health care. It's really hit the gas pedal."
— Jeff Semenchuk

Go deeper

CDC official: Pandemic "explosion" of antibiotic resistance not seen

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Despite concerns over antimicrobial resistance flourishing during the pandemic as doctors use all their tools to help patients fight COVID-19, early indications are that their efforts may not be causing a large increase, a CDC official tells Axios.

Why it matters: AMR is a growing problem, as the misuse or overuse of antibiotics creates resistant pathogens that cause more than 2.8 million infections and 35,000 deaths annually in the U.S.

2 hours ago - Health

FDA advisory panel recommends Pfizer boosters for those 65 and older

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Key Biscayne Community Center on Aug. 24, 2021. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday overwhelmingly voted against recommending Pfizer vaccine booster shots for younger Americans, but unanimously recommended approving the third shots for individuals 65 and older, as well as those at high-risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: While the votes are non-binding, and the FDA must still make a final decision, Friday's move pours cold water on the Biden administration's plan to begin administering boosters to most individuals who received the Pfizer vaccine later this month.

3 hours ago - World

France recalls ambassadors from U.S. and Australia over submarine deal

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (C), and French ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Etienne. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

France has taken the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after both countries blindsided their French allies with a new military pact and submarine contract, the French Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

The backstory: While sealing an agreement with the U.S. and U.K. to acquire nuclear submarines, Australia ripped up an existing $90 billion submarine deal with France. That led senior French officials to accuse the U.S. of a "stab in the back."