January 20, 2016
1 min read

Most family physicians not using telehealth, more training needed

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Only 15% of family physicians who responded to a 2014 national survey said they had used telehealth within the past 12 months, despite agreeing it could improve care access and continuity for patients, according to a Robert Graham Center policy report published in American Family Physician.

“Telehealth (the use of medical information exchanged from one location to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s health) has been suggested as a way of improving patient access, increasing continuity of care, and improving health outcomes by extending hours and convenience or care, monitoring and engaging patients remotely, and facilitating specialty consultations,” Miranda A. Moore, PhD, economist and health services researcher at the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Primary Care, and colleagues wrote. “However, little is known about primary care clinicians’ implementation of, awareness of, and attitudes toward telehealth.”

Seeking more information on the use of telehealth among clinicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) in 2014 surveyed 5,000 randomly selected members listed in that year’s AMA Physician Masterfile. They received 1,557 responses. Researchers weighted the sample to ensure their estimates were representative of family physicians throughout the United States.

According to the survey results, 85% of responding physicians said they had not used telehealth in the previous 12 months. However, 78% agreed that it would improve patient access to care and 68% agreed it would improve continuity of care. The two biggest barriers to implementing telehealth was a lack of training, reported by 54% of responding physicians, and the lack of reimbursement, reported by 53%. In addition, 45% cited the cost of equipment and 41% blaming potential liability issues as reasons for not adopting telehealth.

“Many of the barriers to wider adoption may be addressed by policy changes,” Moore and colleagues wrote. “Strategies to address the top two barriers identified by this survey include health care stakeholders offering new opportunities for training in the use of telehealth services, and payers increasing awareness of their current reimbursement for telehealth services, as well as developing new ways to reimburse the services.” – by Jason Laday

Disclosure: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.