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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.

1 hour ago - Health

CDC: It's time for "universal face mask use"

Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

The CDC is urging “universal face mask use” for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, citing recent case spikes as the U.S. has entered a phase of “high-level transmission” before winter officially begins.

Why it matters: Daily COVID-related deaths across the U.S. hit a new record on Wednesday. Face coverings have been shown to increase protection of the wearer and those around them, despite some Americans' reluctance to use them.

2 hours ago - World

Saudi Arabia and Qatar near deal to end standoff, sources say

Qatar's prime minister (R) attends the 2019 Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Saudi Arabia. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are close to a deal to end the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf following U.S.-mediated reconciliation talks this week, sources familiar with the talks tell me.

Why it matters: Restoring relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar would bring a sense of stability back to the Gulf after a 3.5 year standoff. It could also notch a last-minute achievement for the Trump administration before Jan. 20.