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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 Sep 1, 2021 - Health

COVID-19 hospitalizations among 30- to 39-year-olds hit record high

Emergency Room nurses tend to patients in a hallway at the Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital on August 18, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Hospitalizations from COVID-19 for people in their 30s hit a record high this week, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: Adults from ages 30 to 39 largely avoided hospitalizations from coronavirus during the early phases of the pandemic, but lagging vaccination numbers and highly active lives are driving hospitalizations in the age group, per the Journal.

Updated 4 hours ago - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.

4 hours ago - World

Hong Kong holds first "patriots only" elections

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a news conference last Monday. Photo: Lui Siu Wai/Xinhua via Getty Images

Hong Kong's elections to choose the city's Election Committee members opened to a select group of voters on Sunday, under a new "patriots only" system imposed by China's government.

Why it matters: All candidates running to be members of the electoral college have been "vetted" by Beijing, per Reuters. They will go on to choose the Asian financial hub's next leader, approved by China's government, and some of its legislature.

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