Mental Health vs. Primary Care: How Americans Are Using Telehealth

Robin Gelburd, J.D.

April 19, 2022

Social workers and psychiatrists are among the providers Americans are frequently visiting via telehealth, highlighting the pandemic’s continued mental health impact.

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many Americans have been receiving health care via telehealth. The question arises: Who are the health care professionals on the other end of all these video links and phone calls?

According to new evidence from private insurance claims data, the top specialty providing telehealth services nationally this past January was social worker. Because the most common telehealth service social workers provide is psychotherapy, this is just one sign of how prevalent the provision of mental health services through telehealth has been, as our country continues to grapple with the pandemic and its impact on many fronts.

Tracking Telehealth Month by Month

FAIR Health has been tracking telehealth trends on a monthly basis since January 2020 with the Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker. Drawing on our repository of billions of private health care claims, the Telehealth Tracker documented the rapid rise in telehealth usage in the early months of the pandemic and has followed the evolution of telehealth since then. The Telehealth Tracker is a free, interactive, online map of the four U.S. census regions (Midwest, Northeast, South and West) that allows the user to view an infographic on telehealth for a specific month in the nation as a whole or in individual regions.

The Telehealth Tracker itself evolved as the pandemic continued. In the first year, to study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on telehealth, each month in the pandemic year of 2020 was compared to the corresponding month in the pre-pandemic year of 2019. In 2021, the focus turned to month-over-month rather than year-over-year changes.

In 2022, we’ve added new features: the top five telehealth provider specialties rendering telehealth services and the Telehealth Cost Corner, which presents a specific telehealth procedure code and its median costs. Continuing from previous years are the percent change in telehealth’s share of medical claim lines, the top five telehealth procedure codes and the top five telehealth diagnoses. (A claim line is an individual service or procedure listed on an insurance claim.)

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