7 telehealth trends that physicians should know

Tanya Albert Henry , Contributing News Writer

In 2021, 37% of adults told researchers that they used telemedicine in the previous year, according to one of the few population-based estimates of who is accessing medical care digitally across the United States. 

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Researchers from the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) surveyed nearly 90,000 people in 35,000 households throughout the year as part of its 2021 National Health Interview Survey. The interviews provided insights into how telemedicine use varied among Americans based on their sociodemographic characteristics, as well as the characteristics of their geographic location. The findings are compiled in the NCHS Data Brief, “Telemedicine Use Among Adults: United States, 2021.

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Telehealth is critical to the future of health care, which is why the AMA continues to lead the charge to aggressively expand telehealth policy, research and resources to ensure physician practice sustainability and fair payment.

Taking a deeper dive into those numbers, here are seven trends that the data revealed about telemedicine.

Among those 18–29, 29.4% reported using telemedicine in the past 12 months. It was 35.3% among 30- to 44-year-olds, 38.9% among those 45–64, and 43.3% among those 65 or older.

Among women, 42% reported using telehealth in the past 12 months; 31.7% of men did. 

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Among those surveyed, 39.2% of white adults and 40.6% of American Indian or Alaska Natives used telemedicine in the past year. Use was 32.8% among Hispanic adults, 33.1% among Black adults and 33% among Asian adults. 

Among patients with a college degree or higher, 43.2% reported using telemedicine in the previous 12 months. That compares with 39% among those with some college, 30.3% among those with a high school diploma, and 28.7% among those with less than a high school diploma.

Among adults who were in households living 400% above the federal poverty level, 40.7% reported using telemedicine in the past 12 months. In households at 200% to less than 400% of the federal poverty level, 35.8% of adults said they used telemedicine in the past year. That number was 32.1% for adults in households making 100% to less than 200% of the federal poverty level and 33.1% for adults in households below the federal poverty level.

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In large central metropolitan areas, 40.3% of adults reported using telemedicine in the past year, while the number was 40.2% in large fringe metropolitan areas. In medium metropolitan areas and small metropolitan areas, 35.4% and 32.4% of adults reported using telemedicine, respectively. The number dropped to 30.5% of adults reporting using telemedicine in micropolitan areas and 27.5% in noncore areas.

Among those living in the Western U.S., 42.4% of adults told researchers they used telemedicine in the past year and 40.0% of adults in the Northeast reported using telemedicine. In the South, 34.3% of adults said they used telemedicine, and 33.3% of adults in the Midwest said they did.

Meanwhile, the “Medicare Telehealth Trends Report,” found that 34% of Medicare recipients—more than 10 million patients—used telehealth services between January 2020 and March 31, 2022.