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Overcoming clinician telehealth hesitancy: Key takeaways from our panel discussion

By Jordan Angers

June 29, 2022

    Telehealth has enormous potential to improve care delivery. But many clinicians see telehealth as a threat to their identity, autonomy, and core beliefs about their roles as care providers.

    Advisory Board recently hosted a panel to learn how physician leaders have made progress in overcoming challenges to encourage sustained telehealth adoption. Read on for the key takeaways from our panel discussion.

    Thank you to our panelists

    We were joined by four clinicians and health care executives, all of whom have been leaders in standing up telehealth programs and encouraging their peers to embrace telehealth.

    • Pooja Aysola, MD, MBA, Senior Director, Clinical Operations, Wheel
    • Sean Britton MPA, NRP, CPHQ, System Program Manager of Virtual Health and Digital Transformation, United Health Services
    • Judd Hollander, MD, SVP of Healthcare Delivery Innovation, Thomas Jefferson University
    • David McSwain, MD, MPH, System Chief Medical Informatics Officer, UNC Health

    Takeaway #1: Physicians must accept that telehealth will evolve with or without them

    As our panelists pointed out, telehealth is here to stay, so physicians need to accept that it will be a standard part of health care delivery. Now that patients have experienced the convenience of and learned how to use telehealth, they will increasingly expect telehealth as an option.

    On top of that, there are plenty of third-party vendors who are ready to provide patients with the high-quality digital experiences that they're looking for. These competitors are ready to fulfill patients' expectations if traditional provider organizations can't keep up.

    Physicians who adopt telehealth as part of their practice can also have a better work life balance. Practicing virtually gives physicians more choice and flexibility in when, where, and how they work.

    Providers who have concerns about the quality, safety, equity, or usability of telehealth are valuable contributors to the conversation. They have an opportunity to impact the evolution of telehealth by being active participants and ensuring their concerns are considered.

    Takeaway #2: Address both technical and adaptive challenges to win physician buy-in

    It became clear in our discussion that there are two types of challenges that prevent widespread clinician adoption. First, there are the commonly cited technical challenges, such as faulty video and audio connection. But our panelists pointed out the importance of adaptive challenges, or those challenges related to change management. These are the challenges that present as feelings of loss when physicians are asked to rethink care delivery, such as:

    • Loss of identity: "I didn't start practicing medicine to stare at a screen all day."
    • Loss of autonomy: "I don't want to be told when my visits have to be virtual."
    • Loss of quality: "Telehealth is bad medicine."

    It's important for leaders to think about both types of challenges if they wish to achieve widespread buy-in of telehealth.

    Takeaway #3: Implement tactics to overcome clinician hesitancy

    Panelists discussed some of the solutions they've implemented to overcome clinician hesitancy, including:

    1. Track longitudinal outcomes to build the case for telehealth. Evidence is key to gaining physician buy-in. You can't simply tell physicians to adopt telehealth without showing them how it will benefit them and their patients. Leaders need to gather evidence and track outcomes with telehealth, just like they would with any other new initiative.
    2. Bring physicians (back) into the decision-making process. To secure physician engagement, physicians must be involved in decision-making. Our panelists talked about the importance of using surveys and including physicians in leadership meetings so that physicians can share their frontline experiences using telehealth in practice.
    3. Support physicians through on-demand peer-to-peer learning.The panelists recognized that part of the challenge with telehealth was that it was new for everyone at first. Now, after a few years of experience, leaders can train physicians using on-demand, peer-led trainings. These trainings give physicians the opportunity to learn from their peers on a timeline that is convenient for them.

    Takeaway #4: Really listen to others

    At the end of our panel, the panelists reflected on their lessons learned from standing up telehealth programs and participating in telehealth over the past few years. A few of the panelists commented on the importance of listening: listen to the clinicians who have ideas or are facing challenges. And listen to patients who share their experiences. Only then can you figure out root causes and create better solutions.

    Why many physicians still avoid telehealth

    imagePhysicians are critical to telehealth’s long-term success. Yet, many physicians still think of telehealth as a Covid-era tool and are anxious to return to in-person care only. Some patients are similarly ready to return to in-person care, further coloring physicians’ views of telehealth’s long-term value.

    There are many technical challenges to telehealth. But even when they are addressed, there are challenges to getting physicians to change their practice. Many physicians see telehealth as a threat to their identity, autonomy, and core beliefs about their roles as care providers. These are what we call “adaptive challenges.” Health care leaders must address these adaptive challenges as well as the technical challenges to win physicians‘ buy-in for telehealth.

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