Clinicians say they have not fully adopted telehealth to expand patient care access because of workflow concerns.
Nearly half of internists have telehealth technology available to them, although not all of them actually use it to expand patient access to care, according to new survey data from the American College of Physicians.
Survey responses from 233 ACP members revealed that 51 percent of internists have access to telehealth technology within their offices. These technologies may include video visits, e-consults, remote patient monitoring tools, remote care management or coaching, and patient-generated health data integration with wearables.
These findings are good news, considering the potential telehealth has to improve patient engagement and access to care. Video visits allow patients and providers in disparate areas to connect, expanding care access for busy families, individuals living in rural regions, or those experiencing other barriers to care.
“ACP recognizes that telehealth technologies have the potential to improve access for patients, enhance patient-physician collaboration, improve health outcomes, increase patient satisfaction, and reduce medical costs,” ACP President Ana María López, MD, MPH, MACP, said in a statement. “Our survey gave us valuable information about the state of telehealth adoption among internists, what we can do to improve it, and how we can lead internal medicine physicians in the appropriate use of telehealth.”
But just because telehealth technology is available to providers does not mean they are using it. Only 19 percent of internists said they use video visits each week. Survey respondents stated that workflow barriers and concerns about patient access to adequate technology or other infrastructure issues, such as strong broadband, quell video chat use.
What’s more, very few of these providers are in decision-making positions with regards to telehealth. Between 24 and 34 percent of respondents said they were not aware of any future plans for telehealth use or implementation because they are not the primary technology decision-makers.
That said, there is some potential for more telehealth and health IT use in the future, the survey revealed. Half of the respondents said they use remote patient monitoring or chronic disease monitoring each week.
These technologies are essential for detecting irregularities in a patient’s condition and nudging the patient to make a healthy behavior change or to visit the clinic when necessary.
Additionally, internists expressed interest in learning more about deploying telehealth technologies, the survey revealed. About half of respondents said they would like access to educational materials that would help them use these tools.
“The good news is that more than half of internists are interested in ACP providing guidance and education to help them safely and effectively integrate telehealth into their practices,” López said.
These resources will include education materials about video visits and when it will be appropriate to use the tools, how to change workflows to accommodate the technology, reimbursement information, and the requisite equipment.
“We hope these resources can help close the gap between physician use of telehealth and patients’ desire for flexibility and access to their physicians,” said Tabassum Salam, MD, FACP, ACP’s Vice President for Medical Education.
Evidence shows that patients want access to these technologies. Telehealth and other mHealth tools can connect patients to care outside of the four walls of the hospital, paving a road to wellness and making healthcare more convenient.
Seventy-seven percent of patients have expressed interest in telehealth tools, according to 2017 data from the Advisory Board. Nineteen percent of patients have already had a care encounter via telehealth.
Traditional wisdom states that patients want deeper, in-person relationships with their providers. While relationships are still essential and there are indeed some instances where in-person care is more appropriate, telehealth still has potential to drive positive patient experiences.
However, as patients become more accustomed to technology in other areas of their lives and begin to value convenience in the care encounter, telehealth is emerging as a key patient engagement technology.
“Across industries, consumers have become accustomed to using virtual technology for both real-time and asynchronous interactions. Health care providers can no longer wait to catch up,” said Advisory Board National Strategy Partner Tom Cassels.
“Providers have designed care access around their own convenience and will increasingly find patients willing to pay for their own convenience and alternatives to driving to physician offices for medical expertise,” Cassels continued.
As healthcare organizations continue to embrace patient-centered care, they may consider these patient preferences. Offering provider telehealth training, adopting the requisite tools, and enabling patient access to necessary technologies will help close the loop on telehealth care.
Date: April 23, 2019