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Analysis Of Telehealth Visits Shows Pronounced Digital Disparities Between Urban And Rural Geographies Chartis Group

While national telehealth adoption is stabilizing, trends also reveal rising telehealth visits in COVID-19 hotspots

The Chartis Group, a leading provider of advisory and analytics services to the healthcare industry, in partnership with Kythera Labs, released the latest data and trends from its Telehealth Adoption Tracker, an advanced analytic tool designed to measure how COVID-19 has driven rapid telehealth adoption across the country.

Analysis of physician visit data through the week of July 20 highlights a growing telehealth adoption divide between urban and rural areas.  Urban residents utilized telehealth for primary care visits at a 28% higher rate than those in rural geographies.

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“Telehealth has the potential to democratize access to healthcare,” said Eric Mayeda, Director at The Chartis Group. “However, our analysis shows that realizing these benefits will not occur automatically. Planning and coordination between policy makers, providers and technology companies will be needed to realize its potential to enhance access for all populations.”

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Additional takeaways and trends from the Chartis/Kythera Labs Telehealth Adoption Tracker, with data through the week beginning July 20:

  • The urban and rural telehealth divide is pronounced and shows signs of widening. Rates of telehealth use in urban areas have exceeded those in rural geographies since the beginning of the pandemic. The telehealth adoption rate for primary care visits was 28% higher in urban geographies than rural ones in the most recent week of data. While overall telehealth adoption has stabilized recently, the urban-rural telehealth divide has widened since the early weeks of the pandemic—up from an 18% differential during the peak telehealth adoption weeks in mid-April.
  • Telehealth adoption rates within COVID-19 “hotspot” states rose. The percent of physician visits delivered via telehealth increased in states that experienced the biggest spikes in COVID-19 cases from mid-June through mid-July. Florida (21%), Texas (23%), and Arizona (21%) saw telehealth utilization rates increase by 4-6 points since mid-June and each state now sits above the national telehealth average.
  • Meanwhile, national telehealth utilization has stabilized. Telehealth made up 18% of all physician visits during the week beginning July 20th. This is the sixth straight week that telehealth utilization has remained between 18-20% of all visits—well down from a peak of 50% in mid-April—indicating that this range may represent a “new normal” during the COVID-19 period and under the current telehealth regulatory and reimbursement rules.
  • Telehealth has predominantly functioned as a modality to manage established patients. New patients represent just 5% of overall telehealth visits, compared to 13% of in-person visits throughout the COVID-19 period, indicating that virtual care modalities to-date have been primarily utilized as tools to manage care for established patients. Finding ways to leverage telehealth to expand access to new patients will be a key driver of telehealth’s continued adoption and growth.

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