Uptake remains low, but doctors of all ages interested in telemedicine

By | July 16, 2019

Dive Brief:

  • Adoption of telehealth may be ticking up, with the number of physicians reporting telemedicine as a skill rising 20% per year over the past three years, according to a new study from professional medical network Doximity.
  • Age had no correlation with physician use of telehealth. The San Francisco-based network, which counts 70% of U.S. physicians as members, looked at telehealth engagement, which includes doctors clicking on a job posting, submitting a resume or scheduling an input call. Millennials and baby boomers alike engaged with telemedicine job postings, with 28% of those 31-40 years old, 27% of those 41-50 years old and 24% of those 51-60 years old expressing interest.
  • Physicians working in anesthesiology and general surgery were the least interested in the virtual care offerings. Radiology and psychiatry were the two specialties most engaged with telemedicine job postings. 

Dive Insight: 

Shifting sites of care to the home, increasingly connected technology and an industry-wide push to bend the cost curve seem to be spurring telehealth’s popularity. Virtually conducted doctor-patient visits increased by 261% yearly between 2015 and 2017, according to a study published in JAMA late last year.

However, despite telehealth’s potential to reduce provider burnout, yield cost savings for cash-strapped providers and payers and reduce disparities in healthcare access, the service hasn’t completely taken off just yet.

Only 15% of physicians have used telemedicine in clinical settings, according to the American Medical Association. A number of challenges may explain the low percentage of physician use, including lack of internet in some areas of the country, prohibitive costs and patient and physician reluctance to try a novel model of care.

Additionally, regulatory barriers restrict the use of telehealth within Medicare and Medicaid. In 2016, just 0.25% of the 35 million fee-for-service Medicare enrollees used the option, although use among the commercially insured appears to be growing much more quickly.

Under current Medicare law, patients are required to be seen in specific, pre-approved locations if they want to receive telemedicine services. Such sites include areas deemed rural health professional shortage areas or counties outside a metropolitan area.

Perhaps as a result, physicians in highly-populated metro areas are more likely to engage with telemedicine job opportunities. The field is most popular in San Diego, followed by Miami, Atlanta, New York City and Salt Lake City, Doximity found.

“Whether it be a late-night call about an infant’s health from a new mother, a video chat with a mental healthcare provider, or a patient who lives 100 miles from the closest hospital having a follow-up visit with a provider, doctors and patients alike are using and benefiting from the rise of telemedicine across the country,” researchers wrote in the report.

Doximity also found telehealth does not yet reflect the gender disparities evident at the highest rungs of the healthcare career ladder. Female physicians were 10% more likely to be interested in job opportunities in telemedicine compared to their male peers.

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