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Physicians Tepid About Telehealth

Survey of the coronavirus's impact on patient care identifies barriers to widespread use of virtual appointments.

Published: July 13, 2020

VISUAL, NOT TACTILE VISUAL, NOT TACTILE While usage of telehealth has increased generally in health care, surgeons are still largely uncertain of its utility.

Surgeons are hesitant to adopt telemedicine despite persistent patient concerns about seeking in-person care during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a cross-specialty poll of nearly 4,400 physicians. The survey, conducted from May 28 to June 3 by Baltimore-based consulting firm Sage Growth Partners (SGP), sought to find out how the coronavirus crisis has impacted the practices of physicians in primary care, behavioral health, and medical and surgical specialties.

Here are highlights of the findings:

  • While telehealth is booming across most specialties, only 24% of surgeons are using it to see new patients. SGP called that "unsurprising given the tactile nature of surgical services."
  • There was general concern among all specialties about potential practice problems related to telehealth data management and use. Across the board, doctors' top four issues were lack of integration and interoperability, lack of sufficient data for care continuity, reimbursement/payment parity and multiple technologies creating too much useless data. Around 95% of surgeons cited all four.
  • Surgeons expressed the lowest levels of satisfaction with telehealth, with only 25% expressing satisfaction and only 5% "extremely satisfied." More than half (55%) of surgeons reported dissatisfaction with the technology and 16% were "extremely dissatisfied."
  • Overall, physicians believe fewer than 10% of their office appointments will be conducted via telehealth over the next 12 months. Surgeons expect 97% of their visits to be in person, and only 30% of surgical specialties expect to adopt telehealth as a long-term option.

All specialties expressed concerns about the challenges of telehealth-generated data management and use, preventing cybercrime, ensuring patient privacy and the difficulties in seeing new patients virtually.

"It's encouraging to see telehealth use increasing, but physicians are struggling with some real implementation challenges because this technology was not widespread before the health crisis," says Dan D'Orazio, CEO of SGP. "In a sense, we're building the plane while we're flying it — interoperability with the EHR, efficient data management and reimbursement still have a long way to go. It's clear COVID-19 isn't going away any time soon, and physicians will need to adapt, not only in terms of care delivery, but in how they engage patients and coordinate care as well."

Joe Paone

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