The yearly FAIR Telehealth study was released, providing an interesting and enlightening historical glimpse into the usage, utility and market for telemedicine services. Not surprisingly, the study indicates that the usage of telemedicine grew 1,400% from 2014-2018! Surprisingly, however, the growth was much greater in urban (1,227%) than rural (897%). Younger people are using telemedicine frequently, with individuals aged 31-40 accounting for greater than 20% of the telemedicine usage. Interestingly, the top three diagnoses for telemedicine were: 1) Upper Respiratory Infections 2) Mood Disorders 3) Anxiety and other psychiatric disorders. Upper respiratory infections are extremely common in acute care general telemedicine and hence its inclusion on the list is to be expected. However, the fact that mental health diagnoses occupy two of the top slots across the entire spectrum of all telemedicine encounters should give us pause to consider: is the need for behavioral and mental health truly that ubiquitous in telemedicine and/or medical care in general, or is this a reflection of the inclusion of these services routinely in most telemedicine programs? In other words, is the high rate of such encounters noted in the study simply a bias owing to the fact that such services are commonly offered through telemedicine, or is it reflective of a nascent and prevalent clinical need in our society (or both!).
Regardless, the FAIR Telehealth study provides us with more interesting data regarding the financial and clinical implications of telemedicine, providing yet another indication of its great societal utility and exponential growth.