A recent report from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) reveals that the adoption of telemedicine by office-based physicians has experienced a remarkable increase, multiplying by more than five times between 2019 and 2021. This impressive growth in telemedicine utilization extended to other healthcare settings, including mental health and substance abuse facilities. The COVID-19 pandemic played a significant part in encouraging patients and healthcare providers to turn to telemedicine for delivering and accessing healthcare services.
Although telemedicine has gained popularity, the majority of physicians still predominantly rely on in-person visits for care delivery. In 2021, telemedicine was used by 87% of physicians, but more than half employed it for less than 25% of patient appointments. A mere 20% of physicians utilized telemedicine for over half of their patient consultations.
The study disclosed considerable disparities in telemedicine usage and the types of telemedicine tools adopted across various physician specialties. Primary care doctors were more inclined to use telemedicine compared to surgical specialists, and larger practices were more likely to embrace telemedicine than smaller ones (with fewer than four doctors). Moreover, physicians working at medical centers and HMOs exhibited higher telemedicine usage rates than those affiliated with physician groups.
Telemedicine adoption rates were higher among participants in payment models such as Accountable Care Organizations and Patient-Centered Medical Homes compared to non-participants. Doctors in practices with four or more physicians were twice as likely to use a telemedicine platform integrated with their Electronic Health Record (EHR) system than their counterparts in smaller practices.
The ONC report emphasizes the diverse range of tools healthcare providers use, including videoconferencing or phone-based solutions like Zoom or Cisco Systems, alongside specialized telemedicine platforms such as American Well, Doxy.me, and Teladoc.
Physicians identified several obstacles that limited their use of telemedicine. Over two-thirds indicated that patient difficulties in using and accessing telemedicine technology were the most prevalent barriers. Other issues, including insufficient internet access, slow internet speeds, and the suitability of telemedicine for certain practices, were cited less frequently.
The report also discovered a robust positive correlation between the adoption of specific telemedicine tools and physician satisfaction. Doctors who utilized telemedicine platforms (rather than just telephone or video conferencing tools) reported greater satisfaction with telemedicine. Additionally, 93% of physicians employing platforms integrated with their EHR systems found that telemedicine offered a quality of care comparable to in-person visits.
As the importance and use of telemedicine continue to expand, it is crucial to monitor its implementation and tackle the barriers impeding its usage. Identifying the most widespread telemedicine tools and assessing their impact on satisfaction and quality of care is essential. While telemedicine is increasingly becoming a standard aspect of healthcare, the choice of tools significantly impacts physician satisfaction and the perceived quality of care.
Nonetheless, barriers related to patients’ internet and technology access may restrict the more extensive utilization of all these tools. Ensuring that physicians are equipped with appropriate telemedicine technology and that patients can access and operate the necessary technology to communicate with their doctors is vital for proper care delivery.