Report: Most Medicare beneficiaries receive telehealth services from providers they know

Senior patient consulting with doctor online during telehealth visit
Most seniors received telehealth services from a provider close to home, a new study finds. (Geber86/GettyImages)

Seniors may be taking to telehealth, but they still want to see their usual doctors, according to a new report from the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The OIG analysis found that 84% of seniors only received telehealth services from providers with whom they had an established relationship. This trend was more common among seniors enrolled in traditional Medicare, compared to those in Medicare Advantage plans.

OIG also found that this trend was consistent across multiple types of telehealth services, including electronic visits and virtual check-ins, telephone evaluations, preventive care and behavioral health.

"Data on how likely beneficiaries are to receive telehealth services from a provider with whom they have had an established relationship can be used to inform decisions about how to best use telehealth in Medicare and should be taken into account as policymakers continue to examine telehealth utilization and concerns about telehealth being vulnerable to fraud, waste, and abuse," OIG said.

RELATED: 1 in 4 Medicare patients used telehealth during peak of pandemic with majority using only telephones: KFF

"This includes decisions about which services to allow to be delivered via telehealth on a more permanent basis and to what extent Medicare should require that beneficiaries have a relationship with their providers prior to receiving certain telehealth services," the agency said.

Home health visits represented a fraction of telehealth visits in Medicare, according to the study, but these services were the least likely to be conducted by a physician the patient already knew. Only 34% of these visits were conducted by a physician that already had a relationship with the beneficiary.

Office visits accounted for nearly half (48%) of all telehealth visits provided during the pandemic, and, in 83% of cases, the patient was treated by a physician they knew.

The analysis also found that members who received a telehealth visit on average saw their doctor four months earlier in person. Beneficiaries who had a home health visits through telehealth on average saw their physician nine months earlier in person, according to the study.