Primary care telehealth for Medicare recipients growing most in urban areas, HHS reports

An HHS report on telehealth utilization for Medicare beneficiaries during the pandemic found that while the visits were up in both rural and urban areas, the biggest growth was in urban areas.

Compared to February, when the department reported 0.1 percent of primary care visits done virtually, access has increased dramatically. In April, 43 percent of Medicare primary visits were provided via telehealth.

The agency made several changes to improve access to telehealth, including higher reimbursement rates, expanded covered services and removing requirements on patient location to access telehealth. CMS also allowed physicians to practice telehealth across state lines.

Four key findings from the report:

1. Before the pandemic, 14,000 Medicare beneficiaries received telehealth; from mid-March to early July, more than 10.1 million beneficiaries received it.

2.. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York had the highest increase in primary care telehealth visits, while Iowa, South Dakota and Oklahoma had a smaller increase.

3. Even when Medicare in-person primary care visits resumed in many communities in May, there was a steady demand for telehealth visits, according to the report.

4. There is still interest among healthcare providers for telehealth, including for specialists.

“While in-person patient-provider interactions will remain necessary and preferred, this pandemic has accelerated openness to telehealth in ways previously unseen — from policymakers to providers and patients alike,” the report states.

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