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Telemedicine use among Medicare beneficiaries has decreased in 2021 following May 2020 spike

The use of telemedicine among Medicare beneficiaries exploded at the beginning of the pandemic, particularly following the mid-March 2020 announcement that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would reimburse providers for telemedicine services. Interested in understanding older adults’ use of telehealth during the pandemic, researchers from the Health Data Analytics Institute and Harvard Medical School analyzed medical claims for 30 million Medicare beneficiaries from January 2020 through May 2021. They find that although Medicare beneficiaries’ telemedicine use spiked in March 2020 and peaked in May 2020 (at over 2 million visits per week), the number of weekly telemedicine visits has since fallen considerably, down to 800,000 by May 2021. This is still considerably more than pre-pandemic–around 125,000-200,000 per week in early 2020–though not quite the sustained ‘boom’ that some anticipated. Importantly, around 10 percent of Medicare beneficiaries received telehealth care only via telephone. Additional research is needed to explore who does and does not have access to video visits as well as patient preferences regarding visit type. While researchers have been concerned about disparities in telemedicine, authors found no substantial variation in use by race-ethnicity in 2020.