How Telehealth Usage Increased During the Omicron Surge

Telehealth can help providers deliver smarter, more efficient care even during unprecedented moments

April 8, 2022
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Over the last two years, the United States struggled with spread of COVID-19, experiencing both periodic lulls and meteoric increases. One of those increases coincided with the sudden onset of the Omicron variant, first identified in the United States on December 1, 2021. Omicron spread like wildfire, leading some to proclaim it the fastest-spreading virus in human history. In addition to rapidly impacting the health of millions of Americans, the Omicron variant also re-energized the use of telehealth, a strategy for care delivery that had already soared during the pandemic’s early days. 

Telehealth versus telemedicine

When many people think of telehealth, they assume the term is synonymous with telemedicine, which uses virtual platforms to help doctors visit patients. In fact, telemedicine is a subset of telehealth, which refers to the many different components of healthcare technology that practices can use to treat patients. This includes PainScript, a smartphone-based app that connects chronic care providers with their patients through daily updates. 

Digging into the data

The nonprofit organization Fair Health produces a monthly telehealth regional tracker that analyzes how telehealth is being used across the country. In addition to pure usage numbers, the nonprofit also tracks data sets like claim lines, procedure codes, and diagnoses. The service began its tracking in May 2020, with telehealth usage hitting a pandemic low in July 2021. Four months after registering that low of 4.1% of all medical claims, numbers began to increase in November when Omicron started making headlines. 

Telehealth grew as Omicron spreads

Between November and December 2021, telehealth utilization soared nationally by more than 11%, according to Fair Health. To provide some context to that number, that equates to an increase from 4.4 to 4.9% of all medical claim lines. As reported by mHealth Intelligence, researchers attribute this rapid climb to the first detection of Omicron.

Which geographic regions had the highest telehealth growth during Omicron?

Fair Health’s data also produced meaningful insights into which geographic regions experienced the most drastic swings in telehealth usage. While all regions had increases in telehealth use, Fair Health’s South region—represented by states as far west as Texas and as north as West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware—had the most substantial leap at more than 18%. Growth in the other three regions included 15.38% in the Northeast, 9.68% in the Midwest, and 1.79% in the West. 

Which telehealth diagnoses were the most prominent during Omicron?

As you might have expected, acute respiratory disease was a commonly diagnosed condition throughout the country during this time. Additionally, hypertension made its way into the top five diagnoses in the South, while the Northeast saw joint and soft tissue ailments rise into its top five. Unsurprisingly, mental health conditions held the top spot nationally during the Omicron surge. Mental health has been a widespread area of concern throughout the duration of the pandemic, both in the general public and those working in the healthcare sector

Mental health ailments like anxiety and depression will likely remain problematic, or even worsen, as the pandemic evolves. This can also contribute to increased rates of chronic pain and substance use disorders, two conditions that can greatly benefit from telehealth support. 

While COVID-19 numbers are generally decreasing, the loosening of restrictions and the possibility of a future variant could still result in another surge. This is why telehealth can help providers deliver smarter, more efficient care even during unprecedented moments like a global pandemic.  

Innovative medical technology companies like PainScript use digital health tools to improve patient outcomes and simplify processes for providers. To learn more about our digital healthcare platform that can increase medication and care plan adherence, request a demo today.

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