Physicians are the Gatekeepers of Telehealth
Studies repeatedly indicate that health care providers have perhaps the most crucial role in telehealth becoming more widespread. Physicians consistently emerge as the most trusted source of clinical information by patients: 90% of patients consider them trustworthy for healthcare issues. And physician acceptance is not only vital for patients, but for all stakeholders.
So, how do health care providers perceive telehealth? Research indicates that their views are positive. For example, a recent meta-analysis of 37 studies finds that physicians across different specialties, geographic locations, practice locations, and care situations are satisfied with virtual care for patients.
The Pandemic Demonstrated Telehealth’s Possibilities
Telehealth use soared during the pandemic: in 2022 in the US, 80% of doctors engaged in telehealth visits, compared to just 14% in 2016. Remote patient monitoring still has room to grow, increasing from 12% to 30%.
According to the American Medical Association, the majority of physicians saw that telehealth increased timeliness of care during the pandemic, and allowed them to deliver high-quality care. Doctors showed the most enthusiasm for telehealth and remote patient monitoring. More than 70% were motivated to increase telehealth use. Chronic disease management (73%) is at the very top of the telehealth services that physicians want to offer after the pandemic.
HIMMS’s recent Future of Healthcare survey included respondents from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. It yielded even more positive results, with nearly 9 out of 10 practitioners planning to use digital health tools to a greater extent within the next five years.
A study on telemonitoring also found that once GPs noticed improvements in patient outcomes, their attitudes towards telemonitoring significantly changed. The findings correlate with how patients have experienced telehealth: with more experience, attitudes tend to become more enthusiastic.
The Challenges of Reimbursement and Workflow
One obstacle in the deployment of telehealth is physicians’ concern about reimbursement. Over half of the respondents of McKinsey’s survey said that if virtual rates were 15% lower than in-person rates, they would be less likely to offer telehealth. Transitioning to virtual care also takes some investment and time.
The question of workflow is another area of concern that has emerged in studies. Digital healthcare systems need to integrate seamlessly with electronic health records in order to streamline workflow. However, electronic health records and imaging storages might not always function as particularly encouraging examples for providers as to what new health technologies have to offer. Sometimes clumsy, outdated or difficult to manage, these interfaces can hinder the integration of new technologies.
At the same time, HIMMS’s survey found that physicians were hopeful that new telehealth technologies will, on the contrary, improve workflow. This could free up time to use on complex cases.
Technology challenges for patients was another central area of concern. In fact, effort should be put into accessibility and digital literacy of patients. Doctors also need training so they can use digital health tools effectively and instruct patients properly.
Patient Demand for Virtual Care is Growing
As noted, physicians see telehealth services particularly suitable for ongoing chronic conditions. According to McKinsey, determining the most appropriate setting may be the most crucial variable for deciding how and where to increase telehealth use. Services could be tailored according to the personal preferences of clinicians and patients: some physicians could focus on providing in-person care, and others on telehealth services. As patients trust physicians most on their care decisions, telehealth offers a new way for physicians to advise patients about remote care and the importance of its continuity.
It is clear that telehealth is here to stay. Patients have a persistent and growing interest towards virtual healthcare, and wish for telehealth visits to continue beyond the pandemic. McKinsey sees this as a growth opportunity for the physicians who can meet patients’ needs, while traditional providers may risk losing market share over time. If health practitioners aren’t ready to invest in telehealth’s possibilities, they might fall behind and see patients turn elsewhere. Moreover, they will miss on the advantages of its use.