Which doctors are most likely to use telemedicine? It depends

Doctors with a tablet
Radiologists are making the greatest use of telemedicine, according to a new study. (Getty/Motortion)

Telemedicine is gaining traction in physician practices. But it’s more popular among doctors in certain specialties, a new study has found.

Who’s jumping on board? Radiologists were the most likely, as they reported using telemedicine to store and forward data about diagnoses (39.5%), according to a new study by researchers at the American Medical Association (AMA) published in the December issue of Health Affairs.

That was followed by psychiatrists (27.8%) and cardiologists (24.1%). Allergists and immunologists (6.1%) and gastroenterologists (7.9%) were least likely to use it.

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Size is also a factor. Telemedicine is being used more by larger practices, as the financial burden of implementing the technology may be a barrier for small practices, the study said.

Physicians in practices with 50 or more doctors were more likely to use telemedicine (26.5%). Physicians in offices with four or fewer doctors were the least likely to use telemedicine. Doctors in physician-owned medical practices also had a lower rate of telemedicine.

RELATED: Study—Telehealth can cut down in-person visits in the short term. Its long-term benefits remain murky

Overall, 15.4% of physicians working in practices use telemedicine for a wide spectrum of interactions with patients including e-visits, the analysis of data from the AMA’s 2016 Physician Practice Benchmark Survey found. That included diagnosing or treating patients, patient follow-up or managing patients with chronic diseases.

In addition to using telemedicine to interact with patients, in 2016, 11.2% of physicians also worked in practices that used telemedicine for interactions between physicians and healthcare professionals, such as having a specialty consultation or getting a second opinion. Emergency medicine physicians (38.8%), pathologists (30.4%) and radiologists (25.5%) had the highest use of telemedicine for interactions with healthcare professionals. In other specialties, telemedicine use ranged from 3.3% to 14.9%.

RELATED: Study charts recent spike in telehealth usage, particularly within primary care 

“While regulatory and legislative changes have been implemented to encourage the use of telemedicine, there are no nationally representative estimates on its use by physicians across all medical specialties,” said Carol K. Kane, study co-author and the AMA’s director of economic and health policy research. “To fill this information gap, the AMA study surveyed 3,500 physicians to provide needed data that will help assess potential barriers and create strategies to promote telemedicine adoption.”

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For instance, Kane and co-author Kurt Gillis, a principal economist in the AMA’s division of economic and health policy research, said the financial burden of implementing telemedicine is standing in the way of small practices.

Videoconferencing was the modality with the most widespread use—used in the practices of 12.6% of physicians. Storing and forwarding of patient data for analysis and diagnosis was used in the practices of 9.4% of physicians. Some 7.3% said their practices used remote patient monitoring.

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