Digital Health

Telehealth Struggles to Live Up to Expectations

Trilliant Report

Telehealth demand hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations, but that might have more to do with manic forecasting than real-world performance when a 6,000x utilization increase isn’t enough to satisfy the naysayers.

There’s nothing like forced adoption to kickstart a market, and the combination of in-person office closures and pandemic-era legal flexibilities caused telehealth utilization to vault from less than a million visits in Q4 2019 to over 60 million visits by Q2 2020.

(Overly) enthusiastic forecasts quickly followed the early data, but Trilliant Health’s latest telehealth tracker shows that demand has only headed downhill since the initial spike. 

  • As of Q3 2023, sustained declines have left telehealth volumes 54.7% below their peak, and the trendline doesn’t appear to have found a bottom.

Recent high-profile retreats from players Optum and Walmart have sparked solid viewpoints from pessimists and optimists alike, although the general consensus is that patients don’t view telehealth as a substitute for in-person care for most conditions.

  • Since 2019, behavioral health has represented a consistently increasing share of overall telehealth utilization, and accounted for a substantial majority (67%) of all virtual visits in Q3 2023.

E-prescribing increases closely mirrored the telehealth growth, and now represent a significant share of prescriptions for many drug classes:

  • 30.3% of antidepressants, 38.9% of stimulants, and 5.4% of opioids. It’ll be interesting to see the GLP-1 data when it catches up.

The Takeaway

Event-driven demand shocks don’t last forever, and the telehealth slowdown showed that reality is usually more nuanced than an overnight paradigm shift. New modalities don’t magically create better businesses, but they can be the tools that founders use to build them.

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