Three Strategic Insights for Hospitals Deploying Telemedicine in 2020

Despite steady growth leading up to 2020, telemedicine has historically represented a small share of total medical office visits. 

Then the COVID-19 crisis hit.  Slowing the spread of the virus has required strict social distancing rules and shelter-in-place orders, making the traditional doctor’s office visit much more difficult.  In addition, we discovered early on that patients with chronic conditions were also the most vulnerable if exposed to COVID-19, generating even more complexity and risk. Against this backdrop, telemedicine has emerged as the safest and most effective way to deliver non-emergency care.

 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has altered how patients interact with physicians and other health care providers,” said Christopher Whaley, Ph.D., assistant adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health. “During the pandemic, telemedicine has emerged as an important delivery model in the U.S. health care system.”

Given the advantages that telehealth affords both patients and doctors, it’s obvious that a fundamental shift in care delivery is well underway, which will likely be permanent.  And hospitals are now in the process of adapting to telemedicine as a long-term reality on the clinical landscape.  

To better assist these organizations in tackling the strategic considerations in rolling out a successful telehealth program, here are three key insights from Doximity’s new 2020 State of Telemedicine Report.” 

1.) Physician adoption of telemedicine is advancing faster than hospitals 

Doctors are broadly adopting telemedicine in their clinical practices and doing so at a lightning-fast clip.  "Before the pandemic, health insurance plans....both public and private, put up significant barriers to telemedicine that really didn't make much sense for patients.  Now, I can easily video call my patients in a HIPAA-secure environment using the Doximity app on my own personal cell phone. From a quick video call with my patient, I can immediately assess their clinical status and know in 3 minutes whether or not they need to go to the emergency room, if I can see them tomorrow, or if they shouldn't be concerned," explained Dr. Jay Meizlish, a cardiologist based in Connecticut. 

Since March, over 10% of all U.S. doctors have begun using Doximity Dialer on a regular basis.  That represents over 100,000 physicians and is not inclusive of related care team members, such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners.  When we add these care providers into the mix, the number of clinicians using these telehealth tools is closer to 300,000.  Unsurprisingly, our research indicates that as more physicians become proficient with telemedicine, they are claiming it as part of their professional identity.  Between 2019 and 2020 the number of doctors who self-reported telemedicine as a skill in their online CVs nearly doubled, jumping 38% year-over-year.  Another interesting highlight in this year’s data is that women physicians are using telemedicine at a 24% higher rate than their male colleagues.  Considering the growth-rate in female doctors coming out of medical school and the importance of fostering diversity with medical institutions, health care organizations should take note and continue to track this trend.  What all this points to is a consumerization of telehealth technology, where frontline physicians have to first move so they can meet their patients’ needs for virtual care. 

2.) Patients benefit the most from telemedicine, especially those with chronic illnesses 

Patients are enthusiastic about the care they’ve received through virtual visits during the pandemic, especially those with chronic illnesses, who require frequent appointments for ongoing care.  Of the 2,000 U.S. patients we surveyed, 53% of those patients with chronic conditions rated the quality of care they received through telemedicine to be the same or better” than they received in-person. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, only 35% of Americans with a chronic illness had had even one telemedicine visit. But since the pandemic began that number has increased by 77%.   

Moreover, telemedicine's benefit for patients with chronic illnesses is also reflected in the specialties using telemedicine the most.  When examining the top 10 specialties utilizing telemedicine, those physicians who most often treat chronic illnesses bubbled to the top.   Endocrinology (No. 1) and rheumatology (No. 2) both require frequent patient visits but don’t necessarily need to be in-person.  It’s too early to analyze outcome data, but it’s possible that by simply removing the need to travel and enabling care to happen inside the patient’s home, that chronic care patients rate the experience as much more positive overall.  Regardless, happy patients who are getting on-going treatment and close management of their condition is a positive that bodes well for the future of telehealth as a care modality. 

3.) Advances in Telemedicine are helping bridge the digital divide in medicine:

Access to health care is not evenly distributed in the U.S. For those in rural and underserved communities, the nearest clinic may be hours away and access to high-speed internet is limited. Prior to the pandemic, telemedicine technology required patients to have access to a high-speed internet connection. However, the pandemic has driven innovation in telemedicine platforms and patients today can see their doctor using only a smartphone. Since most underserved Americans own smartphones (81%), this new capability is helping bridge the divide in access to medical services and enabling hospitals to reach more of the American population with quality care.

“Telemedicine can now be facilitated using a basic smartphone, which is a game changer for traditionally underserved communities.  This means that over 80% of minority and migrant populations in the U.S. have everything that they need to access telehealth with today’s technology,” said Amit Phull, MD Medical Director and Vice President at Doximity. “These underserved communities also tend to see higher rates of chronic illness that often require more frequent visits, conditions for which telemedicine can be effectively leveraged, reducing the burden on both patients and the medical system at large."

Driven by the consequences of the pandemic, telehealth has evolved quickly.  And as our research indicates, there’s strong evidence that this shift represents an enduring change in how medical care is delivered.  We anticipate that demand for telehealth service options will continue to grow quickly, and it’s possible that hospitals may find themselves competing to provide the best telemedicine experience.  As this trend continues, more and more hospitals will focus on implementing safe, secure, and easy-to-use telehealth solutions to meet their patient expectations.

To learn more about Doximity, click here!

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