Providers’ Post-Pandemic Assessments of Telemedicine
By Amanda Hansen
Amanda Hansen is president of AdvancedMD of South Jordan, UT.
Healthcare delivery has shifted dramatically since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. For many providers, telemedicine had fallen into the category of a “someday, maybe” service, not a practice essential that was regularly requested or required of them. But when social distancing mandates were enacted to reduce the potential for infectious exposures, demand and the subsequent adoption of telehealth skyrocketed.
About 90% of providers say they are conducting some of their patient visits via telehealth. They have rapidly scaled offerings to see 50 to 175 times the number of patients via telehealth than they did before the pandemic. Going forward, it is projected that virtual visits will account for $250 billion, or 20%, of what Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial insurers spend on outpatient, office and home health visits.
Given the rapid and event-specific changes to telemedicine’s applications, we were curious about the impact to independent practices and their impressions that will come to shape the future of remote clinical services. Are practices capitalizing on the promise that telemedicine saves them both time and money? What has the effect been on the patient experience? We were interested specifically in the following aspects of telemedicine provision:
- Effect on time spent with patients.
- Effectiveness in reducing barriers.
- Impact of care costs.
- Impact on quality of care
In early April. we partnered with nearly 200 select physician offices to conduct a survey addressing these very questions.
An overwhelming majority of survey respondents, 75%, find that telemedicine reduces or eliminates barriers to care for their patients. For practices, this access is expanded without increasing staff or marketing costs.
The ability to provide effective care is a largely a function of provider availability and visit timing. In many segments of healthcare — such as mental health, primary care, and various specialties — the shortage of providers results in excessive wait times for appointments. Telemedicine makes providers more available and creates opportunities for additional visits, reducing barriers to care.
Telemedicine enables flexibility for patients, streamlining care for those outside the immediate area. It also enables quicker resolution for diagnoses and prescribing. Practices offering telemedicine visits are able to divert patients from more costly and complex care settings like emergency rooms. Chronic care patients, in particular, are much more likely to visit with a care provider before the condition enters a crisis and maintain standard care continuity when it is seamless and simple. Convenience remains integral to reducing both barriers and cost of care.
Among survey respondents, 38% say they are providing more quality care using telemedicine. In one of our other recent surveys, 59% of providers said they feel they are able to provide higher quality care with telemedicine. In the early months of the pandemic, telemedicine allowed practices to remain open to provide the quality services their patients required. Today, the service allows practices to maintain and grow their patient volumes.
Telemedicine enables 24% of responding providers to spend more time with patients, but engagement goes beyond time per appointment. Practices that integrate telemedicine with the EHR and other practice management tools like portals, scheduling, text alerts, and claims processing serve patients who are more engaged in their own care. Solutions that meet patients where they are make care management functions seamless and simple. With telemedicine as part of the engagement strategy, patients are getting the same healthcare experience online that they have in traditional, onsite visits, and can even shop for doctors who provide the service and have availability at set times. Engaged patients are healthier patients.
For providers, telemedicine is serving a new purpose. With 271 telehealth case types (with CPT codes) reimbursable by CMS, there are many opportunities to expand utilization and revenue streams. In the decade prior, physicians often engaged in patient phone or video calls without any reimbursement whatsoever. Now, providers are able to deliver services to those who need it with a technology that has proven effective and advantageous.
By reducing costs and breaking down barriers, telemedicine is improving the quality and efficiency of care delivery.