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The First Real Measure of Telemedicine Use Is Here, and Small-Practice Docs Are Lagging


But hospitals use telemedicine more than most specialty practices.

This image has been altered. Image courtesy of Rosie.Andre.

The American Medical Association (AMA) conducted the first national study to find the estimate of telemedicine use by physicians and found that smaller practices have more financial burden, lessening their use of telemedicine.

But hospital employees use telemedicine in 27.6 percent of physician to patient interactions, the most of single or multispecialty practices. In all categories but one, hospital employees’ results reflected the most use of telemedicine, just 1 percentage point behind non-physician-owned multispecialty practices in remote patient monitoring, with 11.9 percent.

With regulatory and legislative changes being implemented to encourage the use of telemedicine, there have been no estimates on its actual use by physicians across the medical field until this point.

>> READ: Mobile Videoconferencing Linked with Reduced Stress, Increased Productivity in Employees

So the AMA used its 2016 Physician Practice Benchmark Survey — of 3,500 physicians from all areas of the medical profession who work at least 20 hours a week — to fill in the gaps to assess barriers and create strategies to promote telemedicine adoption. This was the first time the survey had questions regarding telemedicine.

Carol K. Kane, Ph.D., AMA director of its economic and health policy and research division, and her partner Kurt Gillis, Ph.D., AMA principal economist of its economic and health policy research arm, found that 15 percent of physicians worked in practices that used telemedicine for patient interactions, such as diagnosing and treating patients, managing chronic disease or following up with patients. Eleven percent worked in practices that used telemedicine for interactions with healthcare professionals.

Videoconferencing saw the most widespread use, entering 12.6 percent of physician practices. The method was most common among emergency medicine physicians (31.6 percent), psychiatrists (25.8 percent) and pathologists (24.1 percent).

Store and forward of patient data for analysis and diagnosis was the second most popular modality, being used by 9.4 percent of physicians, and remote patient monitoring was used in the practices of 7.3 percent of physicians.

Radiologists (39.5 percent) had the highest use of telemedicine for patient interactions, while psychiatrists (27.8 percent) and cardiologists (24.1 percent) were the professions with the second and third highest interactions.

Physician-owned practices and practices that were smaller than 50 people did not use telemedicine as often as larger practices. Smaller practices have a lower adoption of electronic health records (EHRs), which explains slower growth in that area, the researchers said.

“We found that in addition to specialty, larger practice size was an important correlate of telemedicine use,” Kane and Gillis said in a statement. “This suggests that despite regulatory and legislative changes to encourage the use of telemedicine, the financial burden of implementing it may be a continuing barrier for small practices.”

According to Kane, there is still a lack of access to telemedicine devices.

Prior to this survey, the only estimate found was based on a survey from 2014, which was limited due to an increase in state laws for telehealth from 2015-2017.

With these findings, the AMA claims it is committed to making technology an asset, not a burden, and will continue investing in resources that give physicians a path for integrating telemedicine and digital health technologies into patient care. The AMA also has a module in its STEPS Forward collection that teaches physicians the steps to adopting telemedicine and ways to navigate the benefits and challenges of remotely monitoring patients.

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