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Telehealth statistics and telemedicine trends 2021

Telehealth statistics show that the use of virtual care is 38 times higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic, and both providers and patients are happy with their experiences

What is telehealth? | Telehealth trends before and after COVID-19 | International telehealth stats | Telehealth stats by health service | Telehealth satisfaction stats | Overall health outcomes | Costs | FAQs | Research

Whether it be a housebound illness, transportation issues, or a worldwide pandemic, access to telehealth is a game-changer for patients and providers.

Since the 1800s, healthcare professionals have noted the usefulness of remote treatment and monitoring of patients. Telehealth statistics today show record-breaking levels of implementation across the industry.

What is telehealth?

Telehealth is the intersection of technology and healthcare. Through phone and computer use, healthcare services and health information are more accessible than ever. Virtual healthcare has improved vastly and now includes access to patient portals, video and phone appointments, remote collaboration between clinicians, accessible health records, and much more.

The concept of telehealth started as a way to better access healthcare and collaborate between clinicians, but has since added new data and communication capabilities. Convenience and accessibility are huge drivers for the ongoing implementation of telehealth options. Along with these benefits is safety, which was magnified during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While telehealth trends show interest from both patients and providers, there is still some hesitancy around issues of telehealth adoption such as cost, risk, and overall satisfaction.

Telehealth visits were invaluable to medical professionals and patients alike during the coronavirus pandemic. Toni Brayer, MD, an internal medicine physician in San Francisco says she had a spike in virtual visits throughout 2020 at her practice. About one-third of her patient visits remain virtual today.

Telehealth use surged and then evened out during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay-at-home orders and fear of contracting the virus led to an increase in usage across the industry. Vaccine availability and lifting of regulations have led to a decrease in telehealth visits across the U.S. since peaking in 2020, but have made an impression on both patients and providers and are here to stay. 

  • Telehealth isn’t a new idea or need. The concept of home-based medical care was mentioned as early as 1879 in a Lancet article about using the telephone to reduce unnecessary office visits. (Institute of Medicine, 2012)
  • In 1925, doctors were diagnosing patients via radio. (Institute of Medicine, 2012)
  • The first video communication for medical purposes was between patients and clinicians at the University of Nebraska in 1959. (Institute of Medicine, 1996)
  • 43% of survey respondents don’t know if telehealth services were offered by their healthcare providers pre-pandemic. (SingleCare, 2021)
  • Telehealth trends showed a 154% increase in telehealth visits during the last week of March 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. (CDC, 2020)

International telehealth usage statistics

Countries around the world began to adopt more telehealth options during the pandemic and most are still in the early stages of implementation. While numbers of telehealth encounters had been slowly increasing from 2019 and even earlier, the pandemic spurred access to remote care and electronic health records.

  • In 2019, the U.S. (50%) and Sweden (58%) had the highest percentage of medical practices that offered four online functions: requesting appointments, requesting prescription refills, viewing test results, and viewing visit summaries. (The Commonwealth Fund, 2019)
  • The first quarter of 2020 in the U.S. showed a 154% increase in telehealth visits. (CDC, 2020).
  • In the Asia-Pacific region, insurers reported a 52% increase in the use of telehealth access to primary physician/general practitioner services from 4% to 56%. (Willis Towers Watson, 2021)
  • Pre-COVID-19 telemedicine use in Ontario, Canada was low at 11 visits per 1,000 patients in rural areas and 7 visits per 1,000 patients in urban areas. Post-COVID-19 telemedicine visits increased to 147 per 1,000 among rural patients and 220 visits per 1,000 among urban dwellers. (Journal of Medical Internet Research, 2021)
  • A German study of 2,720 participants found 57.4% of doctors, 63.8% of nurses, and 70.9% of other medical professionals described the impact of telehealth during the COVID-19 crisis as either high or very high. (Journal of Medical Internet Research, 2020)
  • India predicts a 31% increase in the telemedicine market from 2020 to 2025. (Statista, 2020)
  • As of March 2020, Indonesia saw telemedicine app users increase by 101% compared to 2019 averages. (Statista, 2021)

Telehealth statistics by health service

Telehealth is used for various services including appointments to diagnose common illnesses and infections, follow-up visits after procedures or hospitalizations, talk therapy, management for chronic conditions, and more. However, Dr. Brayer points out that telehealth shouldn’t be used in some cases: “[Telehealth] shouldn’t be used for problems that are recurrent, chest pain, new shortness of breath, fever with infection, unusual bleeding, trauma, ear pain, fever with pharyngitis, very sick children, fractures, or serious sprains,” she says.

While telehealth is becoming more appropriate and accepted by clinicians and patients, there are some services that are only appropriate for in-person visits, either because of the clinical condition or because of patient or provider preference 

In a 2021 telehealth survey, SingleCare asked respondents which of the following services they would be willing to use telehealth for:

  • 69% reported common illnesses/infections
  • 66% reported follow-up visits
  • 49% reported talk therapy
  • 44% reported management for a chronic condition
  • 24% reported specialist visit
  • 18% reported physical therapy

Telehealth satisfaction statistics

Telehealth is a convenient and accessible way to get medical attention for various conditions. However, some patients and healthcare providers are hesitant to adopt virtual care due to concerns about the quality of care, privacy issues, and continuity of care. However, various surveys have found that the majority of patients and physicians have been satisfied with telehealth in the past year.

Patient satisfaction

The SingleCare telehealth survey found that the majority of respondents who received telehealth services reported feeling satisfied or neutral about their experience:

  • 42% were extremely satisfied
  • 36% were somewhat satisfied
  • 16% were neutral
  • 4% not satisfied
  • 2% extremely dissatisfied

Those who reported dissatisfaction stated concerns with the quality of care received, technical issues, and their visit not being with their own healthcare provider but with the nurse or another provider.

Physician satisfaction

The COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition surveyed physicians about their experiences with telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. They found that most physicians were satisfied with telehealth during the pandemic:

  • More than 60% of physicians reported that telehealth is easy to use within their practice across urban, suburban, and rural locations.
  • More than 50% of physicians reported improved satisfaction with their work.
  • 68% of physicians reported that they wanted to increase the use of telehealth in their practice.

Telehealth and overall health outcomes

Misdiagnosis and quality of care were among the top five concerns reported by SingleCare survey respondents. Misdiagnosis is the biggest driver of medical malpractice claims. For telehealth, insurance data shows that 25% of telehealth malpractice claims were from misdiagnosis of cancer, 20% misdiagnosis of stroke, and 20% misdiagnosis of infection. 

Remote care can increase the risk for misdiagnosis and medical errors, but mitigation measures can help to prevent these consequences. Other benefits of telehealth may actually improve outcomes for healthcare facilities, physicians, and patients.

  • 93% of patients report that they would use telemedicine to manage prescriptions. (Medical Economics, 2020)
  • 91% say telemedicine would help them stick to appointments, manage prescriptions and refills, and follow regimen recommendations. (Medical Economics, 2020)
  • Telemedicine decreased mortality and length of stay in the ICU. (Critical Care Medicine, 2018)
  • Reported hospital mortality decreased from 13.8% before telemedicine to 11.8% after telehealth implementation. (Critical Care Medicine, 2018)

RELATED: Medication error statistics

The cost of telehealth

Access to telehealth allows patients to avoid the cost of transportation, taking time off from work, unnecessary emergency department visits, and decreased length of stay. Although expensive to implement, telehealth providers can also find a return on investment as hospital admissions are lower and virtual visits are shorter, allowing for more patients in the day.

  • 62% of survey respondents paid an average of $1 to $30 out-of-pocket per telehealth visit. (SingleCare, 2021)
  • Insurance or Medicare completely covered telehealth services for 60% of respondents. (SingleCare, 2021)
  • In one study, the cost savings for patients with access to telehealth visits were between $19 and $121, mainly from avoiding trips to the ER. (Society of Actuaries, 2020)
  • Telehealth investments hit an all-time high of $4.2 billion in the first quarter of 2021, which was nearly double the $2.2 billion raised in the same quarter of 2020. (Fierce Healthcare, 2021)
  • The implementation of a telemedicine program was associated with 11% cost savings and an estimated return on investment of $3.30 return for every $1 spent to implement the program. (American Hospital Association, 2015)

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Telehealth questions and answers

How many people currently use telehealth?

2021 telehealth statistics show that telehealth is utilized for 13% to 17% of U.S. patient visits across all specialties, according to McKinsey & Company.

How much has telemedicine increased since COVID?

The number of telehealth visits increased by 50% in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the first quarter of 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Telehealth trends have stabilized at 38 times higher than before the pandemic, according to McKinsey & Company.

How long is the average telehealth visit?

The average telehealth visit lasts between 13 and 15 minutes.

What are the pros and cons of telemedicine?

Telehealth benefits include no travel or transportation needs, less time off from work, expanded access, and cost and time savings. Disadvantages to telehealth include a potential loss of connection with the provider, technology issues and access, privacy concerns, and risk of error or misdiagnosis.

RELATED: Telehealth vs. telemedicine examples, pros, and cons

Telehealth research