Telehealth is Being Embraced More and More by Physicians

Data is shown in a recent American Medical Association survey, which comes as Congress recently extended the availability of telehealth for Medicare patients beyond the current COVID-19 public health emergency.

Physicians are embracing telehealth more now than ever and plan for further use in the future of care, according to a recent American Medical Association (AMA) survey.

Data shared nearly 85% of physician respondents 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, according to a release by the AMA.

As physicians and practices plan to expand telehealth services, they say widespread adoption hinges 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., in the release. “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.”

Physicians strongly support 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, the release said.

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 healthcare 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.

Also found in the survey, 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, the release said.

Lastly, 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.