Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, many patients were unable to access regular care due to stay-at-home orders and doctors’ offices being closed.
Even as stay-at-home orders were lifted and businesses started to reopen, many patients were still hesitant to go to a doctor’s office or clinic, or were faced with long wait times for an appointment.
“While we have offered telehealth services for many years, the pandemic certainly has provided an opportunity for our members to try telehealth, many for the first time,” said David S. Webster, MD, Highmark vice president and executive medical director, clinical services. “Overall, by the end of 2020 we saw an increase in utilization of telehealth services by more than 3,400 percent over 2019, and more than 3.4 million telehealth services were accessed by our members.”
In Delaware, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield member usage of telehealth services increased by 2,700 percent.
Webster said Highmark has also extended the waiver of cost-sharing for in-network telehealth visits through March 31 of this year to help ensure members can continue to access care without having to worry about the cost.
According to Highmark claims data, the most utilized services by its members were behavioral health, with 1.5 million claims, and primary care, with 1.1 million claims. Additionally, more than 3.3 million of all telehealth claims in 2020 were for local doctors, while about 79,000 were through Highmark vendors Teledoc, Brightheart, American Well and Doctor on Demand.
“As a result, Highmark paid local doctors nearly $300 million for telehealth services in 2020, an increase of more than 8,000 percent over 2019,” said Webster.
Highmark’s data also showed that women were more likely to utilize telehealth, and that members aged 30-39 were the most likely to access telehealth services, with 350 per 1,000 members in this age group utilizing telehealth services.
“We also saw the largest number of telehealth claims among members aged 19 or younger. This shows that children and teens are getting regular care during the pandemic, which is really important for their growth and health,” Webster said.
Highmark says members have used telemedicine services for conditions such as depression, anxiety, flu, pink eye, rashes, strep throat and sinus infections through board-certified doctors 24 hours a day via phone, tablet or computer.
“The important thing is that our members are able to get the care they need, whether it is in person or virtually,” said Webster.
For more information on telehealth services, go to highmarkanswers.com.