Telemedicine Visits to Children During the Pandemic: Practice-Based Telemedicine Versus Telemedicine-Only Providers



      In March 2020, regulatory and payment changes allowed “brick and mortar” pediatric practices to offer practice-based telemedicine for the first time, joining direct-to-consumer (DTC) telemedicine vendors in the ability to offer visits for common acute pediatric concerns via telemedicine. We sought to characterize the relative contribution of practice-based telemedicine versus commercial DTC telemedicine models in provision of children's telemedicine from 2018 through 2021.


      Using January 2018 to September 2021 data from Optum's de-identified Clinformatics® Data Mart Database, we identified telemedicine visits by children ≤17, excluding preventive visits and visits to specialists, emergency departments, and urgent care. Among included visits, we defined “telemedicine-only” providers as those with ≥80% of visits via telemedicine and practice-based telemedicine providers as those with ≤50% of visits via telemedicine. We then described the telemedicine visit volume and diagnoses for these categories overall and per 1000 children per month.


      From January 2018 to February 2020, telemedicine-only providers accounted for 57,815 telemedicine visits (90.8%), while practice-based telemedicine accounted for 4192 telemedicine visits (6.6%). From March 2020 to September 2021, telemedicine-only providers accounted for 38,282 telemedicine visits (6.1%), while practice-based telemedicine accounted for 555,125 telemedicine visits (88.2%). Per month, telemedicine visits to practice-based telemedicine providers increased from pre-pandemic to pandemic periods (0.1 vs 12.9 visits per 1000 children/month), while telemedicine visits to telemedicine-only providers occurred at a similar rate from pre-pandemic to pandemic periods (0.92 vs 0.96 visits per 1000 children/month).


      We observed a large increase in telemedicine visits during the pandemic, with the growth in visits exclusively occurring among visits to practice-based telemedicine providers as opposed to telemedicine-only providers.


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