Study Finds Telehealth Fails To Reduce After-Hours Workload For Physicians

A recent study published in JMIR Medical Informatics has demonstrated that an increase in telehealth use may lead to an increase in after-hours work for healthcare providers. Due to the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of telehealth had been subject to a significant increase in order to prevent the spread of the virus and reduce strain on the healthcare system. As the large-scale use of telehealth is a relatively new concept, various questions have been posed regarding its benefits and drawbacks. For example, whether telehealth providers 

Potentially resulting in higher levels of burnout experiencing extra work after hours, resulting in an increase in stress and burnout. The study, conducted by researchers at New York University, aimed to assess the impact of the transition to telemedicine during the pandemic on doctor’s after-hours workload. The study comprised 2,129 doctors from diverse subspecialities such as general medicine and ambulatory surgery. Clinical load, or when a doctor works outside of working hours, stood as the primary metric used by the researchers to examine how the work behaviors of doctors are affected depending on the way the treatment is practiced. The clinical load calculation consisted of the additional scheduled hours and time placed on unscheduled days. The researchers then contrasted variations between daily clinical load and clinical load per appointment. 

Using this data set, the researchers discovered that clinical load was higher in telehealth treatment. They contended that any decline in the amount of after-hours worked was not the result of telehealth benefits but rather due to a lower clinical load. The researchers identified a number of limitations that could have influenced the study’s results, particularly in relation to the challenges associated with analyzing EHR information, the lack of sufficient demographic information, and the collection of data from only a singular hospital system during a limited period of time. However, despite these drawbacks, the researchers conclude that telemedicine may be less effective than in-person care for reducing the after-hours burden of physicians. 

“Taking physicians’ clinical load into account, physicians who devoted a higher proportion of their clinical time to telemedicine throughout various stages of the pandemic engaged in higher levels of EHR-based after-hours work compared to those who used telemedicine less intensively. This suggests that telemedicine, as currently delivered, may be less efficient than in-person–based care and may increase the after-hours work burden of physicians”.