Most clinicians can't access telehealth directly from EHRs

Although most providers say telehealth is positively influencing clinical outcomes, many say challenges remain – from workflow to reimbursement rates.
By Kat Jercich
02:42 PM
Person in white coat, frustrated in front of computer

According to a survey released Tuesday by the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition, the majority of physicians and other qualified healthcare professionals say telehealth is positively influencing clinical outcomes, patient experience, cost and professional satisfaction.

Still, challenges remain: respondents are concerned about payment rates, technology and workflow issues that continue to present barriers to seamless virtual care.  

The survey is part of the Telehealth Impact Study prepared by the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition Telehealth Workgroup, which includes the American Medical Association, American Telemedicine Association, Digital Medical Society, Massachusetts Health Quality Partners, MassChallenge Health Tech, Mayo Clinic and MITRE Corporation.   

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"The strong support shown for telehealth, as evidenced in these results, reinforces the knowledge that telehealth is critical to how we deliver healthcare today,” said Dr. Steve Ommen, medical director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Connected Care, and one of the study’s coinvestigators, in a statement.   

"The use of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic highlights its importance in care delivery. Its continued use will be instrumental in connecting to patients everywhere," Ommen added.   

WHY IT MATTERS  

As another COVID-19 surge rises around the United States, it's likely that patients will again express reluctance to make or keep in-person doctor's appointments – especially when virtual care offers an alternative.   

Survey respondents supported this, with more than 80% saying that telehealth had improved timeliness of care for patients and that patients had reacted favorably to using virtual care.  

"In addition to technology and policy change during COVID-19, we've had culture change. Patients will expect more virtual care even after we return to the new normal post vaccination," said Dr. John Halamka, president of the Mayo Clinic Platform and co-chair of the coalition, in a statement.   

Clinicians, too, were largely in favor of telemedicine: more than three-quarters said telehealth had enabled them to provide quality care and 60% said it had improved the health of their patients. 

The majority also said it had decreased the costs of care for their patients and improved the financial health of their practices.  

However, many respondents also voiced concerns about barriers to access. As has been repeatedly expressed, the future of telehealth weighs in part on reimbursement. More than 70% of respondents said no or low reimbursement will be a major challenge after COVID if the current expansions do not remain in place.  

Workflow was also an issue. Nearly 60% of clinicians said they are not currently able to access telehealth technology directly through their electronic health records. They also described a lack of EHR integration and technical support.   

And, of course, the digital divide remains a problem. More than 64% of respondents cited technology challenges for patients as barriers to the sustainable use of telehealth.   

"Telehealth and remote care services have proven critical to the management of COVID-19, while also ensuring uninterrupted care for 100 million Americans with chronic conditions. How telehealth will be used after the pandemic is in the balance, and no one wants to see new access to telehealth suddenly halted," said Dr. Susan R. Bailey, AMA president.  

"The time is now for government officials, physicians, patients, and other stakeholders to work together on a solid plan to support telehealth services going forward," Bailey said.

THE LARGER TREND  

One interesting data point in the survey report was the continued reliance on synchronous video calls as a telehealth modality. Of those using telehealth, 80% are conducting live, interactive video visits with patients.

By contrast, only 11% said they were using remote patient monitoring technologies.

This represents, as ATA President Dr. Joe Kvedar said at the organization's virtual conference this summer, an exciting opportunity for expansion.

"We have a lot more work to do," he said, especially when reimagining the one-to-one, synchronous model of virtual care. "We have the opportunity to reimagine healthcare delivery."  

ON THE RECORD  

"COVID- 19 has allowed telehealth to prove its value as a safe, effective and necessary care-delivery option that can provide quality care to patients when and where they need it," said ATA CEO Ann Mond Johnson. 

"By extending access to care, improving efficiencies, and reducing healthcare spending, telehealth creates a hybrid care-delivery system of in-person and virtual care, bringing healthcare into the 21st century," said Johnson.  
 

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: kjercich@himss.org
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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