Telemedicine Visits Up, but Not for Rural Medicare Beneficiaries

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Telemedicine Visits Up, but Not for Rural Medicare Beneficiaries
Telemedicine Visits Up, but Not for Rural Medicare Beneficiaries

WEDNESDAY, May 11, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Although Medicare telemedicine visits are increasing, in 2013 only 0.7 percent of rural Medicare beneficiaries received a telemedicine visit, according to a research letter published in the May 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Ateev Mehrotra, M.D., from Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues describe trends in telemedicine utilization within Medicare from 2004 to 2013 for rural beneficiaries. Telemedicine encounters were defined as all encounters with a GT or GQ modifier or a telemedicine-specific code.

The researchers observed an increase in telemedicine visits among rural beneficiaries, from 7,015 in 2004 to 107,955 in 2013 (28.0 percent annual visit growth rate). The mean number of visits was 2.6 for the 0.7 percent of rural beneficiaries who received a telemedicine visit in 2013. The visits mainly occurred in outpatient clinics; 12.5 percent took place in a hospital or skilled nursing facility. Most visits (78.9 percent) were for mental health conditions. Compared with those who did not receive a telemedicine visit, rural beneficiaries who received a telemedicine visit in 2013 were likely to be younger than 65 years, have entered Medicare due to disability, have more comorbidity, and live in a poorer community.

"Although the number of Medicare telemedicine visits increased more than 25 percent a year for the past decade, in 2013, less than 1 percent of rural Medicare beneficiaries received a telemedicine visit," the authors write.

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