Physician practices still holding back on telemedicine

A slightly higher percentage of physician practices are offering telemedicine services to patients in the coming year, but the majority are still wary of virtual services, according to a new poll.

The portion of physician practices currently offering telehealth services increased three percentage points compared to last year, according to a poll by Medical Group Management Association. Of the nearly 1,300 respondents, 26% said they are offering telemedicine to patients this year.

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But just 15% of practices plan to offer telemedicine services in 2018, down from 18% in last year's survey. And despite telemedicine’s growing popularity throughout 2017, most providers haven’t been persuaded to implement programs: 39% said they would not provide care via telehealth and 20% were still unsure.

Respondents cited physician buy-in, reimbursement and lack of need for their specialty as the primary reasons they haven’t planned any telehealth initiatives.

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Anecdotally, some small physician practices have begun embracing telemedicine to reach patients at home and provide follow-up care. Practices in Maryland and South Carolina have found success by offering virtual services for certain specialties, like pediatrics or genetic counseling.

At the same time, hospitals and health systems are bullish on telemedicine, with the majority of executives planning to expand their program, according to a recent survey. Concerns about reimbursement have obstructed the industry’s growth, but support for telehealth legislation over the past year signals a willingness from lawmakers to expand Medicare reimbursement. 

Earlier this month, Department of Health and Human Services Chief Technology Officer Bruce Greenstein said the agency plans to review “arcane” telemedicine rules.