Results from 1,392 Physician Survey by Sermo on Telehealth and Patient Volumes

While the volume of patients seen by physicians has fallen in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the number of telehealth visits they handle has shot up dramatically, according to a recent survey. Meanwhile, the need to use telehealth to see patients during the pandemic has led a sizeable number of doctors to offer telehealth visits for the first time.

The survey was conducted by physician site Sermo, which connected with 1,392 physicians in nine countries to complete its research.

According to the survey, most US respondents have seen volume fall, with 81% reporting mild to significant declines, though another 14% said it had actually increased. This nets out to a total of 67% of doctors who have seen volume decrease.

While Sermo didn’t ask survey participants which services had become less popular, it seems likely that the volume of elective options (including some high-reimbursement services) and some routine check-ins have shrunk. This is not good financial news for doctors as has been highlighted by many industry leaders.

Despite the intensity of the pandemic, however, phone contact types haven’t changed much. Medical practices are getting far more patient phone calls related to non-COVID-19 issues than COVID-19-related calls, with routine calls accounting for 63% of calls while COVID-19-related calls accounted for 37%.

This squares with the clinical picture, with respondents reporting that COVID-19 care constituted just between one and 24% of the patients they’ve seen, compared with an average of 16% before. On the other hand, the number of physicians offering remote and telehealth treatment has climbed more than 90%.

Another measure of these changes is that among physicians respondents using telemedicine for consultation during the pandemic, almost half (47%) are using it for the first time.

The services US physicians offer via these channels include telemedicine for physical consultation (63%), videoconferencing (47%), use of remote monitoring tools (8%) and clinical decision support tools, including those driven by AI (7%). After the outbreak dies down, one-fifth of physicians using videoconferencing and telemedicine tools expect to use them far more often than before, the survey found.

To some extent, this data underscores the fact that many physicians are still resisting full telehealth adoption. It seems that even after adopting this technology during the worst of the COVID-19 crisis, the volume of telemedicine services some groups deliver is already falling.

Nonetheless, many other providers have made long-term shifts in how they deliver care or are well on the way to doing so. Combine the effect of such changes in care patterns with ever-growing consumer demand and I think we can expect to see the telehealth surge leave a permanent mark on the business.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.