As the economy recovers from the pandemic, investors have become bearish on stocks that benefited amid lockdowns and restrictions due to COVID-19. A good example of this is telehealth company Teladoc Health (NYSE:TDOC), which is down 24% year to date while the S&P 500 has risen by 23%.

But in releasing its most recent quarterly results last week, the healthcare company proved that demand for its services hasn't gone away, even if patients are returning to doctors' offices. And that was evident through one very surprising number.

People using a telehealth service on a computer.

Image source: Getty Images.

3.9 million virtual visits

Even as an investor in Teladoc, I fully expected to see a drop in the number of telehealth visits the company reported this period. However, not only did the company report an increase of visits from last quarter, it also came in well above the guidance it issued earlier. For the period ended Sept. 30, Teladoc's virtual visits of 3.9 million were 37% higher from a year ago.

A quarter earlier, the company only projected the number of virtual visits in Q3 to fall within a range of 3.4 million to 3.6 million. Teladoc CEO Jason Gorevic credits the strong performance to "expanding relationships with a number of leading national health plans." 

The company is expecting that number to get even bigger

Teladoc doesn't see this as a one-time surprise either. Its guidance for the fourth quarter suggests that total visits will be at least the same level, projecting the number to be between 3.9 million and 4.1 million.

It may seem to be a surprise to investors to see the company growing at a time when they might have otherwise expected things to slow down. But with Teladoc now able to provide more diverse offerings since it acquired chronic care company Livongo Health last year, it is able to reach a broader base of customers.

And while there are no shortage of competitors in the telehealth sector, that doesn't mean they're all equal. Consumer intelligence company J.D. Power recently conducted a telehealth study focused on customer satisfaction and Teladoc outperformed its peers in all subcategories. The study collected responses from 4,000 consumers who used telehealth over the past year.

That focus on customer service bodes well for Teladoc, especially as it deploys Primary360, which the company first piloted two years ago to help detect chronic diseases in their early stages. The service allows patients to contact a doctor any time of day, even if it isn't an emergency. It also features a personalized care plan that has reminders and action items for patients.

As of last month, Teladoc has made it available to employers and commercial health plans across the country. Health insurance company Aetna (which CVS Health owns) is signed on and will make the service available on its plans next year, which should give Teladoc's numbers an additional boost in 2022.

Does this make Teladoc a more attractive buy?

Teladoc's Q3 revenue of $522 million grew 81% year over year, which was a somewhat slower rate than the 109% growth it achieved in the second quarter when sales topped $503 million. But investors know that such high rates of growth aren't sustainable, and any business would struggle to continue doubling its revenue over time.

The positive takeaway is that the company is demonstrating that there continues to be strong demand for its telehealth services, even though there aren't widescale lockdowns forcing people to rely on virtual visits. And with Primary360 still in its early stages, there's a lot more growth ahead for Teladoc.

Buying the stock now, while investors are bearish on it, could be a good contrarian position to take. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.