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Telehealth: Divide Between Patients and Providers Deepens
Today’s to-do list is long, but you’re well on your way to getting it all done. Client meeting at 10 o’clock: Check. Company call at 11:30: Check. Sneak in a quick lunch, run a couple overdue errands, log in for a quick online telehealth visit with your doctor to take care of that nagging cough: Check, check, check.
In today’s busy world, the convenience of telehealth holds great promise. With just a couple clicks and a brief chat, we’re able to check off our check-ups easier than ever and get on with our day.
But as telehealth continues to become more acceptable to patients, there’s a group of people who aren’t quite as eager to move healthcare in a more digital direction, and their title may surprise you: Doctors.
For today’s physicians, telehealth isn’t quite as convenient. In fact, for clinicians attempting to perform basic health tasks before the actual visit even begins—including taking vitals and recording height and weight—there’s a lot more hassle, and inaccuracy, involved.
Telehealth and the Pandemic: From Nice-to-Have to Necessity
As the world began navigating the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020, telehealth evolved from a little-used form of convenience to a full-blown necessary form of healthcare. According to an article published by the National Library of Medicine, the popularity of telehealth immediately began to soar once the premise of social distancing became essential to staying healthy.
“By using virtual care for very regular, essential medical care, and deferring elective procedures or yearly checkups, we can free up medical staff and equipment required for those who become seriously ill from COVID-19,” the article explains.
“Additionally, by not congregating in small spaces like waiting rooms, the availability of the coronavirus to transmission from one person to another were thwart.”
Study Confirms Doctors and Patients Split over Virtual Care
As we slowly begin returning to our pre-pandemic routines, one thing that many patients hope to hold onto is the convenience of telehealth—even though it’s no longer considered a medical necessity. According to a recent article from McKinsey about its 2021 Physician Survey, “Consumers still prefer the convenience of digital engagement and virtual-care options.”
The majority of physicians, on the other hand, do not feel the same way; it is their hope that the pendulum will swing toward more in-person office visits in the months and years ahead. As one statistic from the McKinsey survey shows, “There has been a 13% swing in physicians recommending in-person visits over telehealth since July 2020.”
When it comes to views on telehealth today, the difference of opinion between patient and provider is stark. “Take convenience,” the article says. “While two-thirds of physicians and 60 percent of patients said they agreed that virtual health is more convenient than in-person care for patients, only 36 percent of physicians find it more convenient for themselves.”
For Physicians, Areas of Telehealth Concern Reach Beyond Inconvenience
Beyond the inconvenience factor, there are additional areas of concern for physicians when it comes to telehealth. As the McKinsey survey explains, since its peak in July 2020, physicians believe that the effectiveness of telehealth has declined.
Of the five visit types surveyed, including new patient visits with physical exams, new patient visits without physical exams, follow-up visits, preoperative consults and postoperative follow-ups, physicians answered with a clear and convincing consensus: the overall effectiveness has dropped for all visit types when they’re completed via computer.
At the end of the day, an ineffective visit only equals more work for the physician—all in the name of time and resources that they just don’t have. Whether it’s following up with a patient after the initial visit to answer questions that fell through the cracks or taking the time to translate something that was lost in translation, the hassle involved can quickly negate any positive telehealth experience for physicians.
Meeting in person? Meeting online? Meeting in the Middle.
Even as physicians attempt to move away from online encounters, many are trying to meet their patients in the middle by offering a limited number of telehealth visits per day. “As physicians evaluate their processes for 2022, 46% said they prefer to offer, at most, a couple of hours of virtual care each day,” the McKinsey article stated. “Twenty-nine percent would like to offer none at all—up ten percentage points from September 2020.”
For patients, even a limited offering of online options is better than none at all. Although the divide on digital health is steep, like anything else, trying to understand the other person’s point of view can go a long way in closing the gap and finding a happy medium.
As the McKinsey study points out, 90% of patients consider providers trustworthy for healthcare-related issues. “Providers could play a pivotal role in counseling patients on the importance of continuity of care, as well as what can be done safely and effectively by IRL (in real life) and URL (online), respectively.”
When all is said and done, whether the visit takes place in the physician’s office or from a computer on the patient’s kitchen counter, the goal is always the same, according to the McKinsey article: “The goal is to help patients receive the care that they need in a timely manner and in the most clinically appropriate setting.”
Physicians Angels is the industry’s first Virtual Scribe company, providing real-time documentation directly into the physician’s EMR, along with Virtual Back Office services. Our services save the physician an average of 10 hours per week, thereby improving patient throughput and contributing to a better work/life balance for the physician and office staff. To learn more, visit physiciansangels.com or contact us.