As patients begin to return to doctors’ offices, we were intrigued to read an analysis out this week from the Commonwealth Fund that provides a first glimpse into the pace of the recovery. Researchers from Harvard University and healthcare technology company Phreesia analyzed data from 12M visits at over 50,000 physician practices, finding that in-person visits had declined nearly 70 percent by mid-April, compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Behavioral health providers, medical specialists and primary care practices maintained the most volume, and procedural specialists were the hardest hit. Many practices deployed telemedicine quickly, but even with those added encounters, total visits were still down by nearly 60 percent. While visits are starting to return, it’s likely that physician practices are in for a long, slow rebound. Telemedicine as a percentage of all visits peaked in late April, and by mid-May, in-person visits had reached 55 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
Even if virtual volumes pull back from their COVID high, we’re likely to see telemedicine play a much more expansive role moving forward. Dr. Rushika Fernandopulle, CEO of Iora Health, shared his company’s learnings from their COVID-19 response, predicting that ultimately 70-80 percent of physician encounters could be virtual, necessitating a need to reorganize care delivery around populations, instead of practices.
Expect the next year to be a reckoning as changes in payment and regulations, combined with a heated marketplace for virtual care, continue to shift the balance between in-person and virtual care.