By 2022, This is How Most Physicians Believe They Will Treat Patients

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A new survey out by national telehealth leader American Well® finds physician telehealth adoption is at an inflection point. This shift in readiness is driven by physicians’ desire to improve patient access to care, improve patient outcomes and attract and retain patients. Coupled with a more promising reimbursement landscape and health systems’ vision to expand telehealth use, this shift in provider expectations around telehealth is set to fuel significant growth in the sector.

“Physicians are adopting telehealth much faster than they adopted EHRs at a similar stage of market development1,” said Dr. Sylvia Romm, Vice President of Clinical Transformation at American Well. “Physicians’ increased willingness to see patients over video, in addition to the increasing physician shortage, high burnout rates and a more favorable reimbursement landscape, signals a boom in virtual visits over the next several years. It’s exciting to be a part of such a significant movement.”

The survey, which polled 800 physicians across the United States, was fielded in December 2018 by M3 Global Research. Survey data can be compared to a similar study done in 2015.

Among its key findings:

Physician adoption of telehealth has increased significantly. A total of 22 percent of physicians have used telehealth to see patients, up 340 percent from 2015 when only 5 percent of physicians reported having ever used telehealth.

More physicians are willing to try telehealth. A total of 69 percent of physicians said they would be willing to use telehealth, up 12 percentage points, from 57 percent in 2015. Interestingly, newer physicians (aged 25-34) were somewhat less willing to use telehealth compared to other young physicians (aged 35-44), possibly because these physicians are still learning their craft and thus less confident about new technology.

Specialists want to use telehealth, especially those who are burnt out. Specialists most willing to practice via telehealth are also among the most burnt out. The top specialties willing to practice via telehealth include: Urology, Emergency Medicine, Infectious Disease, Psychiatry, Pediatrics, Oncology and Neurology.

Barriers to adoption still exist – but they can be addressed. For most specialties, there is a significant gap between willingness to use telehealth and actual telehealth usage. Burnt out specialists such as urologists, emergency medicine providers and infectious disease physicians are the most willing to use telehealth, but they’re among the least likely to have used it.  Physician barriers to telehealth include: uncertainty around reimbursement, questions about clinical appropriateness, lack of physician buy-in, poor leadership support. Each of these areas has seen significant positive progress since 2015.

Physician adoption of telehealth is at an inflection point. While 22 percent of doctors report using telehealth today, over half of those who are not using telehealth said they are either very likely or likely to start using telehealth within 3 years. This would bring the total percent of physicians  using telehealth to roughly 61 percent by 2022 – more than half a million doctors in all.

Physicians already using telehealth expect to use it more in the future. Among doctors who have tried video visits already, the percentage who use telemedicine 2 times a week or more now is 15 percent – but is expected to grow to 50 percent by 2022.

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