All of the data I’ve seen so far suggest that while doctors may have been leery of getting involved in telehealth services, COVID-19 forced the matter and has fostered the widespread adoption of these technologies.
What I haven’t seen though, at least until today, is the suggestion that the volume of telehealth services they deliver are likely to fall back to pre-COVID levels in the foreseeable future. However, that’s just what the data from a new medical practice survey suggests.
The survey, which reached out to 4,380 physicians working in multiple specialties, was conducted by Sage Growth Partners and Black Book Research.
On the one hand, it found that almost two-thirds of primary care practices (64%), behavioral health (64%) and medical specialties (62%) are providing telehealth services, along with 24% of surgical specialists. Consumers are responding to telehealth availability well, with 78% satisfied with their telehealth experience, according to a previous survey.
However, another key conclusion emerging from the survey was that medical groups actually don’t expect telehealth to play a major role in their business over the longer term. In fact, they overwhelmingly predict that fewer than 10% of their patient consults will be conducted virtually over the last 12 months.
Among the those queried, behavioral health specialists seem the happiest with their telehealth experiences, with 76% reporting that they were extremely or somewhat satisfied. Ninety-three perecent of behavioral health providers and 62% of PCPs expect to conduct more virtual care visits going forward.
On the other hand, just 49% of specialists and a scant 26% of primary care specialties reported being satisfied. Surgical specialists came in at the lowest levels of satisfaction, at 25%. While 5% reported being extremely satisfied, with telehealth, 16% reported being extremely dissatisfied.
When asked what telehealth problems they encountered, the top cited issue was lack of integration/interoperability, followed by lack of sufficient data for care continuity, problems with reimbursement parity and concerns that working with multiple technologies was creating too much useless data.
By the way, I wasn’t surprised to see integration emerge as a top issue. As I’d noted in a previous piece, providers facing a state of COVID-driven crisis have been letting the problem slide, but it’s unlikely they’ll let it go when things get back to something more like normal.
Meanwhile, the biggest challenges providers faced in using telehealth were maintaining and explaining patient privacy, seeing new patients, concerns about being vulnerable to cyber-crime and needing increased insurance.
In addition, the survey found that 78% of respondents expected their practices would rebound to pre-COVID-19 patient volumes within the next 3 to 6 months, but that all specialties expect to reduce office hours and staffing. Primary care practices expect to see the greatest impact, with 68% anticipating that staffing will be reduced.
I’ve got to say that this data surprises me somewhat. While I knew that physician resistance to using telehealth remains surprisingly high, I’ve long assumed that once they broke through and used such tools regularly, most would wish they’d started sooner, particularly given how enthusiastic patients were likely to be about having such an option. However, it seems that I might have been way too optimistic about telehealth’s growth prospects after all.