Over the last few years, telehealth has increasingly become a standard part of patient care, and many providers feel that the service is valuable to patients. However, persistent barriers, including increased workloads for health care workers, limit telehealth's scope, according to a new report from Sage Growth Partners (SGP).
How providers feel about telehealth
For the report, SGP surveyed 95 health system executives and 75 physician practice leaders in September to assess their current telehealth programs, attitudes towards the service, and what they had planned for 2023.
Overall, SGP found that many respondents were satisfied with the care their organizations provided with telehealth. Over 60% of hospital executives and practice leaders said telehealth enabled them to provide comprehensive care, and over 50% said it helped patients avoid ED visits.
When asked about the key values telehealth provided their organization, most respondents cited increased access to care (62% of hospital executives and 73% of practice leaders) and patient satisfaction (57% of hospital executives and 60% of practice leaders).
Other aspects of telehealth that respondents found valuable include business strategy, value-based care, and consumerism.
When asked why their organizations were interested in continuing to offer telehealth, most respondents cited reducing patients' barriers to access care (86% of hospital executives and 79% of practice leaders), as well as increasing patient satisfaction (79% of hospital executives and 76% of practice leaders).
However, respondents also identified barriers to telehealth, including limited digital literacy and limited access to technology among patients. Telehealth may also create issues among physicians and other workers at an organization.
Among the respondents, less than half said telehealth increased physician satisfaction and that physicians liked using telehealth to treat patients. Workflow inefficiencies also created more work for support staff, as well as nurses.
What's next for telehealth
In 2023, most respondents said their organizations plan to focus on optimizing and sustaining their telehealth programs. A smaller portion—11% of hospitals and 8% of practices—plan to expand their program in the next year.
Respondents also expressed how much they wanted telehealth to make up the visits they received from patients going forward. Among health systems executives, the ideal ratio of in-person-to-telehealth was 70% in-person visits and 30% telehealth. In comparison, practice leaders wanted in-person visits at 80% and telehealth at 20%.
To improve their telehealth workflows, many organizations will likely turn to third-party telehealth administrators, such as Amwell to Caregility. Among the respondents, hospitals were more than twice as likely to use a third-party than physician practices (20% vs. 9%, respectively).
"In the year ahead, hospitals and practices will also focus on more fully extending the value of telehealth services. Those who innovate most will move beyond leveraging telehealth to ensure continuity of care by fully applying it to enhance in-person visits and improve clinical outcomes, and by integrating it with remote patient monitoring tools to provide more comprehensive care," SGP wrote. (Adams, MedCity News, 12/20; Sage Growth Partners "Telehealth in 2023" report, accessed 12/21)