The Covid pandemic and the shut-downs of 2020 had an enormous impact on telehealth. March of 2020 saw a 154% increase in telehealth visits over March of the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Infection (CDC). “For a period of time, telehealth went from a nice to have to a must have,” according to Kelsey Mellard, CEO of Sitka, and a Nexus Insights Fellow. Sitka is a value-based multi-specialty provider network, empowering primary care providers to remain at the helm of their patients’ care.
Telehealth expansion isn’t limited to the number of synchronous telemedicine visits. Providers and payors have been expanding their role with respect to telehealth, into providing the infrastructure and the tools and devices patients need to engage in telehealth. There has also been an expansion in reimbursement, and in the types of services provided by telehealth.
“For a period of time, telehealth went from a nice to have to a must have.”
Sitka, for example, has created a virtual network of specialty physicians. These physicians, who are not economically incentivized to do more tests or procedures, provide peer-to-peer consults via video and text, with primary care physicians who request their expertise.
In addition, there has been an increase in merger and acquisition activity and investment into the telemedicine and digital health space, including greater tech-enabled connectivity in home- and community-based care settings. Funding for Quarter 1 of 2021 funding closed with $6.7B in US digital health funding, the most-funded quarter to date, according to Rock Health. Average deal size ballooned to $45.M (up from $31.7M in 2020.). The pandemic prompted an acceleration in the adoption and mainstreaming of digital health. As buyer’s desire for connectivity, such as remote patient monitoring, has increased, the market has been responding. And CMS continues regularly to release new proposed payment codes.
Nevertheless, proponents of telehealth should not sit back on their laurels and celebrate just yet. Advocacy continues to be important. Telehealth is here to stay, and we can expect to see it continue to expand and to evolve. But, there is pressure from those invested in bricks and mortar service delivery to return to those models and State licensing regulations continue to impose limits.
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