AMA survey: Majority of physicians say telehealth enables more comprehensive quality care
A survey conducted by the American Medical Association found that the vast majority of physician respondents say they’re currently using telehealth – and many of those reporting a decrease say they’re providing a mix of virtual and in-person care.
The survey, which was conducted online in late 2021, explored the variations in telehealth use among 2,232 physicians.
The results suggested enduring interest in virtual care among physicians.
“I am a wife, mother and in a dual physician partnership, and telehealth allows me to balance my professional and family obligations without leaving my profession for family reasons in the middle of my career,” said one respondent.
WHY IT MATTERS
As the potential end of the public health emergency looms, the future of telehealth policy has been under increasing scrutiny.
And even as telehealth use has decreased since its 2020 spike, the AMA survey shows many physicians are still relying on the modality.
Among physician respondents, 85% indicate they currently use telehealth, with the majority of decreased use attributed to a mix of virtual and in-person visits.
Other decreases are due to patient or clinician preference, technology barriers for patients, or belief that telehealth is inappropriate for the physician’s specialty.
Most physicians say telehealth has allowed them to provide more comprehensive quality care.
“As a pediatrician, it gives me an opportunity to see children and their families in a setting (home) in which they feel comfortable, and this sometimes reveals strengths of the family,” said one respondent.
Of those using telehealth, the vast majority – 93% – is conducting live, interactive video visits with patients, with 69% performing audio-only visits.
Slightly more than half of respondents say they’re motivated to increase telehealth use in their practices. Telephone and Zoom are still the primary platforms used to deliver care, and less than half of respondents report being able to access their telehealth platform via their electronic health record.
And only 8% said they rely on remote monitoring technologies with patients in their homes.
When it comes to challenges, physicians said the digital divide was the biggest barrier to care.
“Many of my patients are not that well versed in technology and telehealth is a real big challenge for them,” said one respondent.
Coverage, payment and reimbursement uncertainty also weighed heavily on respondents’ minds.
“I worry about telephone visits no longer being covered! They are a large part of the care that we can provide to our patients, who have limited access to other digital technology, Wi-Fi, et cetera,” said a respondent.
“Payment parity is critical for telephone-only encounters. Patients should not be penalized for access to care if they do not have the technology or cannot easily access care,” said another.
THE LARGER TREND
The public health emergency, which was just extended for the ninth time earlier this month, has enabled telehealth expansion via temporary flexibilities.
But advocates have continuously pushed Congress to take permanent action to safeguard access to care, citing fears around a “telehealth cliff.”
In March, the U.S. House and Senate provided some padding when they approved a spending bill that would extend temporary flexibilities.
“We are hopeful for a longer extension in the future or a permanent solution to provide more certainty to patients and providers that telehealth won’t disappear, but greatly appreciate this initial extension. We will continue to work with Congress and HHS on any additional authorities that may be needed,” said Kyle Zebley, vice president of public policy at the American Telemedicine Association and executive director of ATA Action, at the time.
ON THE RECORD
“Allowing patients to be in their home is a key component of making telehealth more accessible and convenient,” said AMA in its survey report.
“The AMA will advocate for equitable access for under-resourced patient populations and communities, including but not limited to, supporting increased funding and planning for telehealth infrastructure such as broadband and internet-connected devices,” it continued.
Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Email: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.
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