Telehealth has grown by leaps at doc practices, with wide variance in usage patterns

Telehealth has grown by leaps at doc practices, with wide variance in usage patterns

To the surprise of no one, the new AMA Physician Practice Benchmark Survey, finds a major uptick in use of telehealth since before the pandemic: 70.3% of physicians polled say they work in practices that used videoconferencing to provide patient visits in September 2020, according to the survey – that’s compared to only 14.3% in September 2018.

What might be surprising, however, is a relatively wide variance in which practice types are most enthusiastic about virtual care – as well as what they’re using it for and what technologies they’re using.

According to a new AMA Policy Research Perspectives report videoconferencing is a favored means of patient consults for significant numbers of dermatology practices (87.3%), urologists (87.2%), pediatricians (82.9%) and cardiologists (82%).

More than 80% of family and general practice physicians (80.9%) and nearly 80% of internists (76.6%) also conduct routine video visits.

These differing specialties are also using telehealth in different ways. Across all practices surveyed for the report: 58% said they used telehealth to diagnose or treat patients, 59.2% used telehealth to manage patients with chronic disease, 50.4% used telehealth to provide care to patients with acute disease and 34.3% used telehealth for preventative care visits.

“There was a great deal of variation within specialty, with large shares of physicians who didn’t provide any remote visits the prior week. as well as some who relied much more heavily on remote care,” said AMA researchers.

As has been shown, behavioral health specialists have taken to telehealth in a big way. The AMA report showed that psychiatrists had among the highest rates of using telehealth to diagnose or treat patients, at nearly 83%.

Not all of those remote consults were video conferences, however: 36.9% of visits were conducted via videoconferencing and 29% of visits conducted via phone, according to AMA. 

Across all specialties, 10.6% of weekly visits were done on video, while 8.1% were conducted via phone – an average of 9.9 video visits weekly and 7.6 telephone visits.

If physician practices are finding favor with telehealth, the good news is that patients are fans of it too. A Cleveland Clinic study from earlier this summer, for instance, found that more than half of survey respondents said their telehealth visit was better than an in-person one.

Even as virtual care continues its rapid real-time evolution – and even as some raise questions about its diagnostic efficacy – it’s clear that telehealth has enabled some significant changes in the way care is delivered.

And that’s not just at physician practices and hospitals, either: Organizations of all kinds are putting it to work in new and useful ways.

“Research conducted over the past year illustrated telehealth’s role in allowing patients to retain access to care during the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote Carol K. Kane, AMA’s director of economic and health policy research.

“In turn, the use of telehealth and the expanded rules around coverage and payment for it allowed physician practices to keep their revenue streams positive, rather than at or near zero, and to remain open to serve their patients.”

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: [email protected]

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