Top Medical Groups Advocate for Telehealth Beyond Pandemic

The COVID-19 Telehealth Impact Study Work Group of the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition* surveyed nearly 1,600 physicians and qualified healthcare professionals in the U.S. to determine the effectiveness of telehealth and its impact moving forward. “Through the physician survey, we seek to characterize the experience and attitudes of physicians and other frontline clinicians during the COVID-19 pandemic. We expect these finding to help guide medical practices, payers and government regulators in the months ahead as we create a new normal for clinical care.”

Based on the findings, the American Medical Association (AMA) has adopted a new telehealth policy designed to pressure state and federal agencies, including the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, to improve coverage, access, and financial compensation to providers.

General findings from the study:

CLINICAL OUTCOMES

More than 75% of the surveyed clinicians indicated that telehealth enabled them to provide quality care in the areas of COVID-19-related care, acute care, chronic disease management, hospital follow-up, care coordination, preventative care, and mental/behavioral health.

Additionally, 60% of clinicians reported that telehealth has improved the health of their patients. 80% are conducting live, interactive video visits with patients and 67.9% are doing audio-only visits.

68% of respondents are motivated (agree and strongly agree) to increase telehealth use in their practices. The majority would like to continue to offer it for chronic disease management, medical management, care coordination, and preventative care following the pandemic.

11% of respondents said they were using remote patient monitoring (RPM) technologies with patients in their homes; the commonly used tools include smartphones (camera), blood pressure cuffs, body weight scales, and pulse oximeters. Currently, data is usually shared verbally over the phone or via email.

As we reported here, RPM is being widely adopted by healthcare providers in the next few years, and will play a big role in keeping older adults with chronic conditions healthier for longer.

PATIENT EXPERIENCE

More than 80% of respondents indicated that telehealth improved the timeliness of care for their patients. A similar percentage said that their patients have reacted favorably to using telehealth for care.

“COVID-19 has allowed telehealth to prove its value as a safe, effective, and necessary care delivery option that can provide quality care to patients when and where they need it. Telehealth is also helping to address several challenges that have been exacerbated by and will continue long after the pandemic, including a severe provider shortage and a growing gap in access to care for rural communities and our most vulnerable populations. Telehealth did not create these problems but offers a cost-effective solution to a failing healthcare system,” Ann Mond Johnson, American Telemedicine Association chief executive officer said in a press release.

In addition to the benefits reported, many challenges were also cited, which include:

  • Payment Rates: 73.3% of clinician respondents indicated that no or low reimbursement will be a major challenge post-COVID if the current expansions do not remain. As a result of the pandemic, adoption of telehealth in physician practices has increased dramatically and patients are now more likely to be able to access telehealth services within their home.
  • Technology: More than 64% of respondents said technology challenges for patients was a barrier to the sustainable use of telehealth. These perceived barriers included lack of access to technology and/or internet/broadband, as well as low digital literacy.
  • Workflow: 58% of respondents are not able to currently access their telehealth technology directly from their electronic health records (EHRs). Workflow challenges also include lack of integration with EHRs (30.3%) and other healthcare technologies (27.9%), building telehealth-specific workflows (25.7%), and lack of technical support (25.3%).

“By extending access to care, improving efficiencies, and reducing healthcare spending, telehealth creates a hybrid care delivery system of in-person and virtual care, bringing healthcare into the 21st century,” Johnson explains.

 

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