Importance of telehealth, Telemental Health

Metrics Regarding the Growing Importance of Telehealth & Telemental Health


July 13, 2022 | Reading Time: 2 Minutes

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Fair Health is an independent nonprofit that collects data for and manages the nation’s largest health insurance claims databases. They recently published a report showing the growing importance of telehealth, particularly telemental health, from January 2019 to March 2022 using its Telehealth Regional Tracker insights. The tracker identifies the most frequently used diagnosis and procedure codes across census regions and the nation.

The importance of telehealth is measured by its share of the overall claims using percentages to eliminate data errors. Upgrades to the tracker database in 2022 included information on top specialties and procedure costs by code. For the first time, the tracker offered month-on-month rather than year-on-year figures by region, and it provides data regarding the top telemental health diagnoses for 2021. 

Report Key Findings Regarding the Importance of Telehealth

As expected, between March 2019 and March 2020, telehealth claim lines as a percentage of total claims increased by 4,347%, and in April, it increased by a whopping 8,336%. The top five diagnoses in the spring of 2020 differed considerably from the prior year’s. Codes now included consultations for hypertension, developmental disorders, and diabetes, whereas previously, they centered largely around patient education, self-care, evaluation, and management encounters (E&M).

In November 2020, Covid-19 made the top five diagnoses on a regional list for the first time. The following month, it was amongst the top five nationally. It also appeared near the top of every regional list. The use of telehealth has consistently tracked the course of the pandemic, rising as the number of Covid-19 cases has increased and falling as infections receded. Since last year, telehealth use started to drop, with half of the months in 2021 showing a decline from the previous month. Even so, telehealth use remained much higher than before Covid-19. The overall percentage of telehealth claim lines by January 2022 was 5.4% of total claim lines, considerably higher than the 0.17% it claimed in January 2019. 

Tracking Changes in Telemental Health

The nature of the telehealth visits has also changed. Before the pandemic, remote consultations mainly involved patient education, self-management visits, and short telephone consultations. Throughout the pandemic, telemental health diagnoses have remained consistently high. Though the importance of telehealth for patient education and self-management has remained one of the top code claims, telemental health has emerged as a top achiever in the telehealth stakes. In January 2022, three of the top five positions for provider specialties belonged to the field of telemental health on the national and all four regional trackers. The top specialty codes included social worker, psychologist, and psychiatrist. CPT 90837, 60-minute psychotherapy, is the number one telehealth code nationally and in all four census regions from March 2020 to November 2020, inclusive.

Data provided in this article can be of assistance to readers seeking reliable metrics with which to justify telehealth expansion efforts.

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