Telehealth Tech at Crossroads as In-Office Visits Resume

Telehealth continues seeking its new level in the post-pandemic treatment mix as the technology transitions to a more permanent and settled role in healthcare.

With the use of telehealth visits having stabilized in late 2021 at roughly 38 times pre-pandemic levels according to widely published reports, nonprofit health data FAIR Health’s latest Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker found that telehealth utilization “fell nationally for the second straight month” in March, following a downward trend that began in early 2022.

FAIR said the drop-off in telehealth this year is “likely due to continuing reduction in the reported number and severity of COVID-19 infections, which may have led more patients to return to in-person healthcare services.”

With more patients eager for in-person doctor appointments after two years of heavy reliance on telehealth visits, the technology is at a crossroads, having proved its utility and now being assessed for its applications in chronic care as opposed to acute treatments like COVID.

Reporting second-quarter financials in late July, category mainstay Teladoc noted that amid a general slowdown in usage, the platform and technology are performing well in chronic disease management use cases, indicating that this will be a major focus for providers going forward.

In comments to analysts, Teladoc CEO Jason Gorevic said the company’s second quarter bright spot “was primarily driven by Chronic Care revenue, where enrollment came in ahead of our expectations. As discussed earlier in the year, we expected Chronic Care enrollment growth to be weighted toward the back half of 2022.”

In February, Teladoc launched its Chronic Care Complete telehealth condition management solution in an early recognition that the COVID-19 usage spike was seriously waning. Building on that, Teladoc announced its Primary360 offering in July, offering a suite of at-home and remote tools for remote management of chronic conditions.

See also: Telehealth Sector Redoubles Focus on Convenient Care, Smarter Virtual Visits

Telehealth Wants to Be Telemedicine

A bellwether for the sector, Teladoc’s moves are designed to bring telehealth into the treatment mainstream with remote monitoring, which may be useful in controlling costs.

With months of inflation teetering on the brink of recession, consumers are cutting back in many areas, perhaps most alarmingly in healthcare, which telehealth could help remedy.

According to the July study The Healthcare Conundrum: The Impact of Unexpected Patient Costs on Care, a PYMNTS and Experian Health collaboration, “19% of patients overall experienced financial distress due to healthcare costs because they spent more than they could afford in the past 12 months.”

That study added “32% of United States patients have scheduled a doctor’s appointment and then canceled it and that those living paycheck to paycheck with issues paying their bills were the most likely to do so, at 56%.”

Get the Study: The Healthcare Conundrum: The Impact of Unexpected Patient Costs on Care

The emerging field of digital therapeutics is one of the ways that telehealth is being converted into true telemedicine, promising to earn video doctor visits their place in the treatment flow.

In a recent interview, Digital Therapeutics Alliance (DTA) CEO Andy Molnar told PYMNTS that there are currently 23 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved digital treatments available, meaning treatments that are delivered digitally over smartphone and tablets.

The DTA is a key advocate for the Access to Prescription Digital Therapeutic Act, a bipartisan and bicameral bill introduced in March to speed the creation of Medicare benefit coding to act as a guide for pricing prescription digital therapeutics and having these treatments paid.

Molnar told PYMNTS, “That would create the ability for us to get coding either for individual products or at least by disease state or disorder and allow CMS to simply look at the clinical data and decide if they want to pay for it, which is what we want to get to.”

See also: Telemedicine’s Post-COVID Evolution Paves Way for Digital Therapies, Diagnostics