As a growing part of successful patient-centered care, telehealth can improve healthcare access, quality and affordability. This use of electronic communications to exchange medical information allows providers to monitor progress and to deliver care after hours, both remotely and to those in rural areas. The flexibility of these practices also allow for primary care doctors to collaborate with other specialists and medical providers in a greater capacity.
However, increased telehealth use requires clarification on training, technological, and administrative barriers. The Robert Graham Center, American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), and Anthem conducted a nationwide survey to gain an understanding of usage and attitudes surrounding telehealth. Questionnaires sent to more than 5,000 randomly selected family physicians (with a purposeful intent to oversample rural providers) yielded 1,557 respondents with 15% saying they use telehealth in their practices.
The survey results shed light on the demographics of telehealth users and non-users, as well as the most common uses among those who do practice telemedicine. Telehealth was most commonly used for diagnosis, treatment, chronic disease management and getting a second opinion. As for beliefs surrounding telehealth, non-users perceived a higher quality of care with in-person care and were more likely to believe telehealth was an inefficient use of time. Both users and non-users believe that telehealth has the potential to improve access to care, improve continuity and decrease travel time for patients. Respondents agreed that in-person care was best, but also recognized that services via telehealth is a way to improve access for their most vulnerable patients.
Findings from this survey highlight that reimbursement remains one of the largest barriers to the use of telehealth in primary care. Additionally, survey results showed that lack of training and issues surrounding credentialing and infrastructure were also important factors accounting for resistance to full-scale adoption, it’s vital for telehealth policies to set quality standards for clinical practice, licensing, training and reimbursement procedures.
In light of the growing need for greater healthcare accessibility, the development of strategic reimbursement policies and national pilot programs will offer physicians the assurance that telehealth is a reliable strategy for growth in the quality of care and patients’ access to it.