Safety-net clinics, HMO docs more likely to use telehealth

Telemedicine

Family physicians in safety net and managed-care settings are more likely to use telehealth than doctors in other settings, according to a recent policy brief.

Using answers to a telemedicine survey by the 2014 American Academy of Family Physicians, the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care found that overall just 15 percent of AAFP members had used telehealth in 2014.

Yet that number rose to 28 percent of physicians at federally designated safety net clinics and 19 percent at HMOs.

Telehealth use was lowest at academic health centers (10.7 percent), according to the brief, published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. No difference was found at patient-centered medical homes.

The authors urged more research to better understand these differences. In an article on the findings at AAFP News, one study author cited low reimbursement rates as a key factor in the limited adoption of telehealth and urged incentives similar to the Meaningful Use program.

"Payment is not aligned with services yet," Graham Center researcher Megan Coffman said in the article. "We have to find different ways to incentivize rural providers to use it, and not just through fee-for-service."

AAFP has been pressing for expanded federal reimbursement for telehealth, expecting private payers to follow.

Reimbursement for telehealth is 40 percent less than for in-person care and remains a significant barrier to adoption, according to the Health Care Cost Institute.