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Most Physicians Find Telehealth Means Higher Quality Care For Their Patients

The American Medical Association completed a survey, released March 23rd, which found that most physician respondents say they’re currently using telehealth, and many of the ones reporting a decrease are in fact providing a mix of virtual and in-person care to their patients.

What Is Telemedicine and How Does It Help Deliver Better Care

Telemedicine is a fairly new digital health discipline that keeps making the lives of providers easier, improving healthcare access, and delivering better patient outcomes. It’s also one area of medicine that is growing at an epic pace, causing a seismic disruption in healthcare.

Data available last year showed that telemedicine market size is anticipated to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.2 percent to hit over $130 billion by 2025, up from $26.5 billion in 2018. 

There are many developments in telemedicine at the moment, and it pays to keep up with these exciting changes, breakthroughs and the impact it’s having on healthcare.

In case you haven’t tried telemedicine yet, or you are a health professional looking to get into it, you should definitely read one of the most authoritative guides on the subject, covering everything you need to know about telemedicine.

Almost 85% Of the Respondent Physicians Are Currently Using Telehealth

The survey, which was conducted online in late 2021, explored the variations in telehealth use among 2,232 physicians. 

According to the study’s data, almost 85% of physician respondents indicated they are currently using telehealth to care for patients, and nearly 70% report their organization is motivated to continue using telehealth in their practice. Many physicians foresee providing telehealth services for chronic disease management and ongoing medical management, care coordination, mental/behavioral health, and specialty care.

The survey comes as Congress recently extended the availability of telehealth for Medicare patients beyond the current COVID-19 public health emergency. Additional action by Congress will be needed to permanently provide access to Medicare telehealth services.

Physicians and practices plan to expand telehealth services, but they say widespread adoption depends on preventing a return to the previous lack of insurance coverage and little to no payer reimbursement. Payers, both public and private, should continue to evaluate and improve policies, coverage, and payment rates for services provided via telehealth.

“Physicians view telehealth as providing quality care to their patients, and policymakers and payers have come to the same conclusion. Patients will benefit immensely from this new era of improved access to care,” said AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, M.D. “This survey shows adoption of the technology is widespread as is the demand for continued access. It is critical that Congress takes action and makes permanent telehealth access for Medicare patients.”

Telehealth Should Remain Covered Even Outside of the Public Health Emergency

Physicians strongly support that telehealth via audio-only/telephone remains covered in the future to ensure equitable access. That coverage has been permitted during the public health emergency and extended for several months afterward.

According to the survey, 95% of physicians report patients are primarily located at their home at the time of the virtual visit. Allowing patients to be in their home is a key component of making telehealth more accessible. Before the pandemic, Medicare patients needed to be physically located in a rural area to access telehealth services, shutting out urban and suburban patients from receiving the same benefits of virtual care. Before the pandemic, rural patients needed to travel to an “originating site,” essentially another health care facility, outside of their home to access telehealth services. The temporary extension in the omnibus will allow patients with Medicare to receive telehealth services anywhere they are located, including in their home. The AMA will continue to urge Congress to make permanent not only this, but also other policies that have offered coverage and convenience to patients.

Technology, Digital Literacy, and Broadband Internet Access, the Top Barriers for Patients

Fewer than half of respondents report being able to access all of their telehealth platforms via their electronic health records, and more than 75% report that their support technology does not automatically collect and deliver patient-reported data. Improving interoperability between platforms and support technology would improve and streamline telehealth services.

Physicians perceive technology, digital literacy, and broadband internet access to be the top three patient barriers to using telehealth. In addition, only 8% of physician respondents said they were using remote patient monitoring at this time. The AMA will advocate for patient populations and communities with limited access to telehealth service, including but not limited to, supporting increased funding and planning for telehealth infrastructure such as broadband and internet-connected devices.

For many people, it is still not clear how technology is actually changing healthcare. But let’s say that, if it is maybe more difficult to find out what technology is being developed to improve patient outcomes or what is the ultimate goal of technology in healthcare, how telehealth already impacted people’s lives in the last two years is a bit easier to assess, and this recent study helps. 

Whether we believe or not that technology in healthcare could make us live longer, possibly allowing us to live for hundreds of years, and cure all diseases, we should all agree that it already helps the system deliver better care. And the efforts coming mostly from technologists who are dedicating time and financial resources to further research are already noticeable. 

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