Assessing Telehealth Adoption in Physician Practices
By Miranda Moore and Megan Coffman
At a time of rapidly evolving technologies – from Uber to Amazon – more physicians are considering how they can use technology to help their patients access care outside of the traditional, office-based face-to-face visit. One way may be through telehealth services. Exploring how physicians are currently using telehealth services is important in setting the stage for assessing the degree to which telehealth services can improve patient care and outcomes, and reduce the cost of care.
In 2014, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) surveyed 5,000 family physicians randomly selected from the 2014 AMA Physician Masterfile, receiving 1,557 responses (a 31-percent response rate). The survey asked 30 questions to assess demographics, practice characteristics, their attitude towards telehealth, the barriers they see to using telehealth, how they use telehealth, and their beliefs about telehealth.
The Robert Graham Center analyzed the survey results and produced this report. After adjusting the sample to ensure the estimates computed were representative of family physicians across the US, only 15 percent of surveyed family physicians reported using telehealth services in the last 12 months.
The majority of family physicians expressed positive feelings about telehealth. When asked to agree or disagree with statements regarding telehealth, 78 percent either indicated they strongly agreed or agreed that “telehealth improves access to care for my patients,” while 68 percent agreed that “telehealth improves the continuity of care for my patients.”
Considering family physicians believe telehealth could benefit their patients, it is surprising that there are so few family physicians who used the service in the past year. When asked to identify the barriers to using telehealth in their practice, over half indicated that lack of training (54 percent) was a barrier. Additionally, over half of the family physicians listed the lack of reimbursement by insurers (53 percent) as a barrier. Other financial barriers were the cost of equipment (45 percent) and potential liability issues associated with the use of telehealth (41 percent).
Telehealth represents an important avenue to meet the needs of patients. However, more research is needed to identify and quantify the risks, benefits, and costs of telehealth services.
Miranda Moore is economic & health services researcher, and Megan Coffman is policy research administrator at the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care in Washington, DC.