Patterns of Telehealth Use Among Rural Medicaid Beneficiaries

Journal of Rural Health

Few studies have examined telehealth use among rural Medicaid beneficiaries. This study produced a descriptive overview of telehealth use in 2011, including the prevalence of telehealth use among rural and urban Medicaid beneficiaries, characteristics of telehealth users, types of telehealth services provided, and diagnoses associated with telehealth use.

Using data from the 2011 Medicaid Analytic eXtract (MAX) we conducted bivariate analyses to test the associations between rurality and prevalence and patterns of telehealth use among Medicaid beneficiaries.

Rural Medicaid beneficiaries were more likely to use telehealth services than their urban counterparts, but absolute rates of telehealth use were low—0.26% of rural non-dual Medicaid beneficiaries used telehealth in 2011. Psychotropic medication management was the most prevalent use of telehealth for both rural and urban Medicaid beneficiaries, but the proportion of users who accessed non-behavioral health services through telehealth was significantly greater as rurality increased. Regardless of telehealth users' residence, mood disorders were the most common reason for obtaining telehealth services. As rurality increased, significantly higher proportions of telehealth users received services to address ADHD and other behavioral health problems usually diagnosed in childhood.

These findings provide a baseline for further policy-relevant investigations including examinations of changes in telehealth use rates in Medicaid since 2011. Reimbursement policies and unique rural service needs may account for the observed differences in rural-urban Medicaid telehealth use rates.

Rural Telehealth Research Center
Jean Talbot, Amanda Burgess, Deborah Thayer, Lily Parenteau, Nathan Paluso, Andrew Coburn