New research conducted by Healthcare IT Today suggests that the top barriers to wider, more stable adoption of telehealth may be patient and doctor discomfort with the technology. While telehealth technology companies have worked to make such systems simple enough for everyone to use, it seems like there’s still work to do.
According to the telehealth survey, there still remain a number of obstacles to widespread, long-term adoption of telehealth. One of them remains physicians’ concerns that telehealth doesn’t allow doctors to make physical contact with patients or establish a more-intimate personal rapport.
“Not having the provider complete an actual physical exam in person [remains a problem],” one respondent noted. Telehealth is “impersonal,” another respondent said. “The doctor cannot read body language nor listen to breath sounds.” Side Note: John has an interview coming out shortly about a digital stethoscope where you can listen to breath sounds remotely.
One person who responded suggested that telehealth left patients cold as well. “It undermines trust because many think seeing a physician in person is the only way to get medical treatment,” they said. Yet another echoed this point: “People want hands-on touch from their provider,” they said.
Another problem cited by those answering the survey was challenges with getting paid. Several noted that reimbursement for telehealth care is far from universal. Not only that, telehealth reimbursement structures are actually complicated, as my colleague John Lynn noted in a separate piece, given that such care can include live video conferencing, store-and-forward asynchronous care, remote patient monitoring and mobile health services.
But perhaps the most common concern cited by survey respondents was the nature of the technology itself. At times, both doctors and patients struggle to make telehealth tech work, respondents said.
For one thing, several respondents said that it’s proving to be awkward for providers to integrate telehealth technology with their existing technical infrastructure. Telehealth needs to be easy to use and fit into existing workflows, but that’s often not the case.
For example, one respondent noted that they faced problems with connectivity, broadband and the ability to triage patients. Others are running into some nasty technical problems. “We need reliable, simple technology,” one survey respondent said. “One telehealth visit took several hours over two days to orchestrate correctly.”
Then, there’s the issue of pushing telehealth data into other provider systems. If they’re using a standalone system, providers need to see that the data gets integrated into their EHR, which can of course be tougher than it sounds.
The bottom line is that both patients and providers still have a lot of learning to do before they’re comfortable with the telehealth process. For telehealth adoption to succeed, another respondent said, “patients and providers need to adjust to the new normal.”
Of course, on any survey the majority of those motivated to respond are those who love the technology or those that hate it. It’s certainly possible that our survey attracted those that had issues more than those that had a great experience or even an average experience. However, it’s worth noting the problems that many on our survey are having with telehealth.