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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.

Go deeper

Updated Oct 29, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on innovations in senior health care

On Friday, October 29th, Axios health care reporter Tina Reed explored how technological advancements are transforming the way seniors access and receive health care, featuring Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and American Telemedicine Association Board Chair Dr. Joseph C. Kvedar.

Sen. Jacky Rosen highlighted how caring for an aging loved one impacts their families, the current efforts in congressional legislation to improve senior health care, and adaptations being made to ensure rural areas have sufficient broadband to access telehealth services.

  • On expanding access to telehealth in rural areas: “We have to be sure when we talk about seniors that they have access if they’re in rural or underserved communities, we need to get providers out there and we need to give them telehealth and even telephone. That’s really important and we need to expand the providers that are there.”
  • On the important role of telehealth during the pandemic: “We know that it’s kept people alive. It’s helped people who are homebound, it’s helped people who can’t go with COVID they’re at risk because they have other diseases, high risks, they haven’t been able to go into an office.”

Dr. Joseph C. Kvedar illustrated specific innovations in technological gadgets for senior care, how to distinguish between valuable technology and useless health apps, and how to design health care tech tools for senior use.

  • On evaluating if a health tech gadget is useful or not: “The other barometer is are there good, solid clinical outcomes, usually from clinical research or clinical trials, but sometimes from real world evidence that point us to an outcome that we can hang our hat on as valuable. That helps me separate junk from non-junk.”
  • On telehealth in health care delivery moving forward: “For seniors, Medicare is pivotal, and right now Medicare is allowing for any senior citizen to get telehealth wherever they are...as long as their doctor is licensed in their state. It wasn’t always that way, it used to be that they had to be in a certain geographically narrowly restricted living area and had to travel to a clinic, and the doctor on the other end had to be in a clinic as well. So that’s a law, it’s been forgiven now for the pandemic, but we want to get it changed.”

Axios SVP of Events & Creative Strategy Kristin Burkhalter hosted a View from the Top segment with Better Medicare Alliance president and CEO Mary Beth Donahue, who explained how Medicare Advantage is factoring innovations in senior care into their plans.

  • “With this common understanding of medical and social needs, not just medical but social, really has Medicare Advantage being able to ensure that beneficiaries are getting the support they need for their healthy lives.”

Thank you Better Medicare Alliance for sponsoring this event.

2 hours ago - World

Biden will move U.S. troops to Eastern Europe "in the near term"

President Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Jan. 28. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said on Friday he plans to move U.S. troops to Eastern European and NATO countries “in the near term.”

Driving the news: “Not too many” U.S. troops, Biden added in remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrew upon returning from a trip to Pennsylvania. 

Updated 2 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a potentially historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

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