HSS OIG Study Shows 40% of Patients Used Telehealth During Pandemic

The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General has published a study analyzing medicare beneficiaries’ use of telehealth during the initial year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic generated a multitude of challenges to the provision of healthcare. As a result, the U.S. government took a series of actions to encourage medicare beneficiaries to access telehealth from a range of locations such as the beneficiaries home. 

The data analyzed was based on a collection of Medicare fee-for-service claims and Medicare Advantage encounters for telehealth services between March 1, 2020, and February 28, 2021. The claims were collected from the National Claims History File and the Medicare Enrollment Database. Using the data, the HHS’ Office of Inspector General was able to assess how the use of telehealth services evolved during the pandemic’s first year. 

The Office of Inspector General found that the use of telehealth increased dramatically. According to the study, approximately 28 million Medicare beneficiaries accessed telehealth services in the initial year of the pandemic.This accounts for 40% of all Medicare beneficiaries. The OIG discovered that telehealth services were used by Medicare patients 88 times more than the year prior. Telehealth accounted for 10% of all healthcare services. However, the number rose to 29% in April 2020. The study also found that telehealth was primarily used as a substitute for office visits. In comparison with the use of other telehealth services, Medicare beneficiaries used behavioral health services significantly more.   

The researchers for the study assert that telehealth was crucial for the provision of healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic’s initial year. The large-scale use of telehealth during this period shows the potential of telehealth to improve access to healthcare. In addition, the study contends that telehealth significantly improved a beneficiary’s ability to use telehealth particular services like behavioral health services. The OIG believes that the results of the study will be extremely valuable to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the U.S. Congress, and other parties of authority when introducing changes to telehealth in Medicare. For the OIG, changes to telehealth provision must address concerns regarding access, quality of care, and equity in order to ensure the benefits of telehealth are achieved.