But in-person visits remain preferred form of care delivery, study finds
Telemedicine use among office-based doctors increased nearly six-fold after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and more than 80% say they plan to continue using it even after the pandemic has ended.
Those are among the findings of a newly-released study of telemedicine use conducted by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). The study showed that 87% of office-based physicians used telemedicine in 2021, compared with 15% in 2018 and 2019.
Despite that growth, in-person visits remained a far more common form of care delivery. Only 18% of doctors who used telemedicine said it accounted for half or more of their patient visits. By contrast, slightly more than 50% said telemedicine visits made up fewer than one quarter of their visits.
The most common barrier to telemedicine use, one reported by 71% of doctors, was the difficulties their patients encountered in using the technology. That was followed by limitations in patients’ access to telemedicine, reported by 66%. Thirty-five percent said their own limited internet access and/or speed issues was a problem.
Telephones were the most common form of telemedicine tool, used by 58% of respondents. Next was video conferencing (49%), followed by a non EHR-integrated platform (39%) and an EHR-integrated platform (25%.)
Doctors working in medical/academic health centers and community health centers were the most likely to use some form of telemedicine, with 98% and 97%, respectively, reporting its use. Among physicians in private practice, practice size correlated strongly with telemedicine use. Seventy-six percent of doctors in solo practice reported using it, compared with 93% of those in groups of four to 10 physicians and 98% of those in groups of 50 or more.
The report found that doctors’ views regarding the quality of telemedicine visits were linked to the use of telemedicine platforms. Ninety-three percent of those using a platform said they were able to provide the same quality of care as an in-person visit, compared to 49% of those not using a platform.
Platform use also strongly influenced doctors’ overall satisfaction levels with telemedicine. Seventy-five percent of those having a telemedicine platform said they were satisfied, versus 39% of those who didn’t use a platform to conduct their telemedicine visits.
The report examined found that telemedicine use varied according to EHR manufacturer, with 96% of Epic users saying they used some form of telemedicine tool. That was followed by users of Cerner (93%), eClinicalWorks (91%), Athenahealth (86%), Allscripts (85%), and NextGen (81%). Eighty-three percent of doctors with EHRs made by some other manufacturer reported using some type of telemedicine tool.
Looking ahead, the report found that 81% of respondents overall said they planned to continue using telemedicine post-pandemic. However, the likelihood of doing so varied according to their experience with it. Ninety-five percent of those satisfied with telemedicine, and 91% who felt it provides a level of care similar to an in-person visit said they would continue using it. But only 59% of those not satisfied with it, and 52% of those saying it doesn’t provide care comparable to an-person visit, said they would.