Majority of health execs say telemedicine has improved patient care
A new survey of 500 executives in the healthcare industry found that the switch to telehealth necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has been a largely positive one, and the majority said at least some of the changes would be permanent.
The survey, conducted by marketing agency Boston Digital and released Monday, found that 57% of executives said telehealth had increased the quality of patient care. But the results weren't all rosy: About a quarter said it had no impact, and 15% said it had decreased the quality of patient care.
"Even as patients begin to schedule in-person appointments once again, our survey indicates that not only are telehealth programs here to stay, but also that most healthcare organizations plan on investing in the expansion of telehealth capabilities," said Peter Prodromou, president at Boston Digital, to Healthcare IT News.
"However, there are barriers that are inhibiting the success of telehealth programs," Prodromou noted.
Among those barriers, said executives, is patients' ability to use new technologies.
"To overcome barriers, including a patient’s ability to understand new programs and associated technology, healthcare providers must implement a seamless user experience and a robust digital marketing strategy that effectively communicates to their diverse patient community," said Prodromou.
WHY IT MATTERS
The novel coronavirus triggered a cascade of changes around the provision of care, particularly where telehealth is concerned. The systems Boston Digital surveyed were no exception: More than half said their organizations had created new portals or microsites in response to the pandemic.
Most respondents said more than 40% of these changes would likely be made permanent – although, of course, it's worth considering that the future of telehealth access also depends on the existence of federal restrictions and other public initiatives, such as broadband expansion. Just over half of respondents said they felt the government should play a substantial role in infrastructure development.
Only 8% of respondents said telehealth initiatives were not important to their organization, although most organizations were not technologically prepared for the shift.
As far as barriers to implementation go, in addition to patient technological prowess, execs cited difficulty treating patients in rural or low-income communities, lack of available staff training, lack of access to dependable WiFi for patients and high costs as some of their biggest hurdles.
THE LARGER TREND
There's no question that virtual care has continued to play a major role in health services and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. There is, however, a lingering mystery about what telehealth provision will look like.
At the American Telemedicine Association conference earlier this year, president Dr. Joseph Kvedar noted the importance of thinking beyond synchronous, one-on-one video interactions.
"We have the opportunity to reimagine healthcare delivery," said Kvedar.
Chief information officers shared some of those imaginings with Healthcare IT News this week, proposing features such as multidisciplinary group chats and artificial intelligence-driven interpreters as a couple of options for future care.
ON THE RECORD
"The implications for healthcare providers are profound as they rethink business plans to accommodate new expectations, including developing more robust digital presences for effective engagement. It will be very interesting to see how these trends impact the historic long-term growth of healthcare spending and costs, as well as general wellness," said Prodromou in a statement.