The outbreak of the COVID-19 illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus continues to march across the globe. There are currently nearly 148,000 confirmed cases and about 5,500 documented fatalities, and communities around the world are taking proactive measures to stem the tide of the worldwide pandemic. 

In its wake, a growing number of government officials and health experts -- including those at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) -- are advising patients, especially those with respiratory symptoms, to use telemedicine and virtual health platforms when possible to help minimize the spread of the virus.

One of the obvious beneficiaries of that recommendation is Teladoc Health (TDOC -2.67%).

An elderly woman videoconferencing with a doctor on a laptop.

Image source: Getty Images.

Soaring adoption of virtual services

Teladoc announced in a press release after the market closed on Friday that over the past seven days, its daily virtual medical visits increased 50% compared to the same period last year. It also said that the number continues to escalate. Teladoc -- which provides telemedicine and digital health services -- had been experiencing "visit demand consistent with peak flu volumes."

On Wednesday, however, the company "began to see demand accelerate to as much as 15,000 visits per day." Teladoc has provided approximately 100,000 medical visits to patients in the U.S. during the past week alone, which it says "is helping to alleviate pressure on the broader healthcare system."

"We are seeing more patients, and more of those patients are experiencing upper respiratory issues," said Lew Levy, MD, Teladoc's chief medical officer. "As we saw during the flu epidemic of 2018, a community's healthcare system can become overwhelmed and virtual care can help provide needed relief."

Dr. Levy also said that Teladoc has the "unique ability to immediately connect with the CDC and other government agencies to add the right screening tools and clinical quality protocols to our system, and most importantly, to keep patients -- particularly those most at risk with underlying health conditions -- out of care settings where they can face exposure."

Teladoc said in a statement that several health plans have waived consumer cost sharing, even as government officials are encouraging patients to take advantage of digital healthcare services. This has caused a clear acceleration in the number of virtual visits. The situation has "driven many people to use telemedicine for the first time, with more than half of all the Teladoc Health visits this month being from first time users."

As patients are introduced to the benefits of telemedicine, many will stick around for the longer term.

Already impressive results

This stunning adoption curve came on top of already impressive fourth-quarter results that the company reported in late February. Teladoc delivered revenue of $156.5 million, up 27% year over year, easily eclipsing the high end of its guidance, in a range of $149 million and $153 million. It also beat analysts' consensus estimates of $152.95 million.

The company saw strong growth in both the U.S. and international markets. Revenue from Teladoc's subscription-access fees climbed to $127 million, up 24% year over year. Fees from visits grew even more quickly, to $29.5 million, up 47% compared to the prior-year quarter.

The number of total office visits climbed to 1.24 million, up 44% year over year, exceeding Teladoc's guidance range of between 1 million and 1.2 million, as patients flocked to the company's subscription-based health-services model. Paid memberships in the U.S. jumped 61% year over year to 36.7 million, while the company's U.S. fee-only patient access increased to 19.3 million, soaring 104%.

Presidential praise

President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Friday in a move designed to "unleash the full power of the federal government" in combatting the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. During his address, Trump praised telehealth platforms like Teladoc, which will likely bring even greater attention to virtual healthcare solutions in the days and weeks to come.