The Use of Telemedicine by US Nephrologists for In-Center Hemodialysis Care During the Pandemic: An Analysis of National Medicare Claims

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Kidney medicine








COVID-19 pandemic; hemodialysis; nephrologist; telemedicine; variation


RATIONALE & OBJECTIVE: Because of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the US government issued emergency waivers in March 2020 that removed regulatory barriers around the use of telemedicine. For the first time, nephrologists were reimbursed for telemedicine care delivered during in-center hemodialysis. We examined the use of telemedicine for in-center hemodialysis during the first 16 months of the pandemic. STUDY DESIGN: We ascertained telemedicine modifiers on nephrologist claims. We used multivariable regression to examine time trends and patient, dialysis facility, and geographic correlates of telemedicine use. We also examined whether the estimated effects of predictors of telemedicine use changed over time. SETTING & PARTICIPANTS: US Medicare beneficiaries receiving in-center hemodialysis between March 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021. EXPOSURES: Patient, geographic, and dialysis facility characteristics. OUTCOMES: The use of telehealth for in-center hemodialysis care. ANALYTIC APPROACH: Retrospective cohort analysis. RESULTS: Among 267,434 Medicare beneficiaries identified, the reported use of telemedicine peaked at 9% of patient-months in April 2020 and declined to 2% of patient-months by June 2021. Telemedicine use varied geographically and was more common in areas that were remote and socioeconomically disadvantaged. Patients were more likely to receive care by telemedicine in areas with higher incidence of COVID-19, although the predictive value of COVID-19 diminished later in the pandemic. Patients were more likely to receive care using telemedicine if they were at facilities with more staff, and the use of telemedicine varied by facility ownership type. LIMITATIONS: Limited reporting of telemedicine on claims could lead to underestimation of its use. Reported telemedicine use was higher in an analysis designed to address this limitation by focusing on patients whose physicians used telemedicine at least once during the pandemic. CONCLUSIONS: Some US nephrologists continued to use telemedicine for in-center hemodialysis throughout the pandemic, even as the association between COVID-19 incidence and telemedicine use diminished over time. These findings highlight unique challenges and opportunities to the future use of telemedicine in dialysis care.