Telehealth Accounted for 8% of Outpatient Visits More Than a Year into COVID-19 Pandemic, Suggesting a More Permanent Shift in How Patients Receive Care

Telehealth use skyrocketed during the early months of the pandemic. While it has since decreased somewhat from that high, it still represents a much more substantial share of health care than before COVID, a new KFF-Epic Research analysis finds.

From March through August 2021, 8% of all outpatient visits were conducted via telehealth – down from 13% in the first six months of the pandemic, but well above pre-pandemic levels, when telehealth accounted for a negligible share of outpatient visits (rounding to 0%).

The analysis examines data from Cosmos, Epic’s HIPAA-defined limited data set of more than 126 million patients from hospitals and clinics across the country. Other findings include:

  • Adults ages 65 and older relied on telehealth for a smaller share (5%) of outpatient visits between March and August 2021 than younger adults (8%) and children (11%).
  • Patients in rural and urban areas used telehealth at similar rates during the six-month period (10% and 8%, respectively).

The report also looks at telehealth use by chronic condition and by gender and summarizes potential implications for expanded telehealth use for access, costs and quality of care, as well as the regulatory environment likely to affect telehealth in the future.

The report is available through the KFF-Peterson Health System Tracker, an online information hub that monitors and assesses the performance of the U.S. health system.

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