Slow telehealth adoption hurts family physicians' ability to compete with retailers

One of the many ways retail health clinics are gaining marketshare is through telemedicine--and family physicians must adopt the technology in order to remain competitive, according to a speaker at the American Academy of Family Physicians' (AAFP) recent State Legislative Conference.

But at the same time, doctors should push insurers to pay them fairly for the care they provide electronically, William Thornbury, M.D., the founder of an online appointment site called meVisit, told attendees, AAFP News reported. "Radiologists are benefiting from new technology that allows them to work faster, and they are not being asked to take less money," he said. "Why are we being penalized for it? If we are more efficient and take on more liability, care is care is care."

AAFP conference speakers also presented results of a recent survey of 1,557 family physicians' thoughts about and use of telehealth. Highlights of the study conducted by the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care include the following:

  • Overall, 15 percent of respondents said they used telehealth in the past year, but rates varied by setting. Just 5 percent of physicians in privately owned practices said they used telehealth, while 26 percent of physicians in integrated health systems reported doing so.
  • More than three-quarters (76 percent) of physicians who reported using telehealth practice in rural settings.
  • The most popular ways physicians said they used telehealth included diagnosis or treatment (55 percent), chronic disease management (26 percent) and patient follow-up (21 percent).

Researchers don't yet have enough data to determine whether telehealth saves money, Megan Coffman, a health policy administrator for the Robert Graham Center, said at the meeting. However telehealth users and nonusers participating in the survey agreed that telehealth can improve access and continuity of care.

The infrastructure improvements most needed for more physicians to provide non-face-to-face care through technology, according to researchers, include physician training, development of credentialing guidelines and standards of care, adequate reimbursement for services and clarification of licensing requirements.

To learn more:
- read the article
- see the survey (.pdf)