Telemedicine Visits at Key Medicaid Providers Increased by 2,000% during First Year of Pandemic, New Survey Finds
Nearly 1 in 3 Medicaid Providers Used Telemedicine for Preventive Care
More Than 4 in 10 Used Virtual Care for Health Screenings
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (March 8, 2022) – Showing the promise of virtual care for Medi-Cal enrollees, a new survey (PDF) of Medi-Cal providers released today by Health Net, one of California's longest-serving and most experienced Medi-Cal partners, reveals that telemedicine use increased from 2% of visits prior to the pandemic to 45% at the end of the first year of the pandemic, representing a more than 20x increase.
"Health Net's unique grant program underscored telemedicine's ability to help bridge the divide in access to care for many historically underserved communities during COVID-19, but it also confirmed that telehealth is here to stay," said Martha Santana-Chin, Medi-Cal President of Health Net. "By compiling and sharing insights directly from California's safety net providers on the front lines of this pandemic, Health Net's goal is to help ensure that digital healthcare continues to meet the needs of every Californian – especially for the millions of Medi-Cal patients we serve each day."
In the spring of 2020, 138 Medi-Cal providers received $13.4 million in grants from Health Net to support the establishment and expansion of telehealth and telephonic services. One year after receiving the grants, Health Net surveyed its providers about the use of telehealth, and in total, 98 providers responded. Survey results were recently released as part of a report (PDF) prepared by Harder+Company Community Research, an independent, third-party, research and analysis firm. The report offers key takeaways and recommendations with valuable insights to help key stakeholders expand telemedicine within the Medi-Cal program and for the evolving Medi-Cal population.
Health Net's 138 grantees span California from the rural north to the urban south, and include independent provider practices, rural health centers, community clinics, Indian health centers, and more — many of whom face increased financial strain and challenges amid the ongoing pandemic. Nearly 20% of grantees reported having no existing telehealth services at the time of their application.
The fast-action, first-of-its-kind plan was envisioned in collaboration with the Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) and has been instrumental in delivering virtual care to Medi-Cal patients during the pandemic. These services also now form the foundation for the future of digital care for many Medi-Cal providers.
Key Findings – Establishing & Expanding Telehealth Access within Medi-Cal
Health Net was able to leverage its experience as one of the state's longest-serving and most experienced Medi-Cal partners to outfit providers with needed resources at a critical point during the pandemic. Grants were dedicated to building or expanding telehealth practices, including live video visits, e-consultations, and tele-psychiatry.
According to the report, expanded telehealth capacity bolstered providers' ability to offer remote care options to patients. Additionally, providers reported the following results:
- Preventive Care: 31% of provider survey respondents were able to conduct routine check-ups or wellness checks for their patients using telehealth.
- Health Screenings: 42% of provider survey respondents identified telehealth as an important tool for patient screenings, including chronic diseases such as diabetes.
- Health Education: 17% of provider survey respondents provided health education, including nutrition and physical activity counseling, diabetes education, and smoking cessation using telehealth.
- Mental Health: 16% of provider survey respondents provided counseling and other mental health services using telehealth.
"One of the most important breakthroughs in the availability and acceptance of telehealth services within Medi-Cal is our ability to reach many patients who previously did not access care regularly or at all," said one grant recipient. "Both the grant and telehealth itself have lowered the barrier to entry for us and our patients and allowed [our organization] to assess patients for preventative measures, HEDIS measures, or patients' current medical needs, as well as educate patients on these same topics."
The new report also identified common challenges associated with the rapid expansion of telemedicine for this population – including access to technology, reliable internet access, and more:
- 82% of providers said that patients had problems accessing technology and internet
- 24% of providers had problems learning new technology
- 12% of patients preferred in-person care
- 7% of patients had privacy concerns
Recommendations: Ensuring the Future of Telemedicine
Despite challenges, 85% of Health Net's grantees plan to integrate telehealth as a sustainable practice for patients moving forward. The report provides the following recommendations to solidify telehealth's role in the healthcare delivery system:
- Continue advocating for continued cost reimbursement for telehealth services
- Secure future funding to support expansion of telehealth services
- Support patient access to telehealth services
"We take a long-term perspective, because we believe telehealth will be useful for our practice far beyond the pandemic," said a provider from a Community Health Center in San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley. "According to internal surveys we conducted, patients strongly identified telehealth as a tool that should have a role in their healthcare going forward, post-pandemic."