The USA declared the COVID-19 pandemic a national emergency on 03/13/20. On 03/17/20, CMS expanded telehealth rules, allowing Medicare to cover telehealth visits like regular visits. This study aims to analyze the utilization of Evaluation & Management (E&M) telehealth options in community oncology pre and post pandemic.
Deidentified patient visits data were obtained from iKnowMed electronic health records between 01/01/18 to 05/24/2021 from 20 US Oncology practices. A combination of patient MRN and date was used as an identifier to report number of visits for all measures. Patient visits with modifiers –GT, –95, and –GQ were classified as telehealth visits. Visit dates without modifiers were defined as non-telehealth (in-office) visits. E&M visits were defined based on standard CPT codes.
A total of 5,914,125 unique E&M patient visits were analyzed during the study period. Between Jan-2018 and Mar-2020 (pre-COVID-19), E&M visits rose from 30,000/week to 36,000/week (20%). Fewer than 0.01% of these visits were telehealth. By April 12, 2020, overall E&M visits had dropped 35%, but the telehealth visits had risen to 16%. Since then, the overall E&M visit count remained approximately 5% lower as compared to the pre-COVID-19 trend, and telehealth visits averaged approximately 6% thereafter. Corresponding to the 2nd wave, in Dec-2020 the telehealth proportion rose again to 10%. As of 05/23/2021, telehealth E&M visits represented approximately 5% of the total E&M visits within US Oncology practices.
This study provides a timeline of how COVID-19 has impacted E&M visits and telehealth utilization among community oncology practices. The pandemic has led to an increase in E&M telehealth visits that may remain post pandemic. Continued research is necessary to monitor telehealth utilization and its impact on the quality of care, provider finances, and future of community oncology considering rising vaccination rates, CDC guidance, and public sentiment.
© 2021 Published by Elsevier Inc.