Physicians Are (Justfiably) Ambivalent About Virtual Care

Posted on July 30, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

It’s easy for pundits like myself to support virtual care. From my standpoint, it’s obvious that virtual care is the easiest and most effective way to handle many health conditions, from handling one-off issues like sore throats and sinusitis to managing long-term chronic conditions.

Not only that, emerging devices will allow patients to test their own blood, urine, heart rhythm and more. When these devices are perfected and put into common use, virtual care will become even more useful and appropriate.

Despite all of these signs of progress, though, physicians aren’t all in with virtual care just yet. According to a study by consulting firm Deloitte, doctors think virtual care might help with patient engagement and support. However, doctors said they would need to overcome several obstacles to virtual care use before they get involved.

Generally speaking, survey respondents seem to “get it” about telemedicine. In fact, according to the survey nine in 10 physicians understand the benefits of virtual care, particularly when it came to connecting with patients. They reported that these benefits include improved patient access to care (66%), increased patient satisfaction (52%) and staying connected with patients and their caregivers (45%).

They also said virtual care could improve patient care coordination (42%), boost the cost-effectiveness of care (42%), offer increased flexibility to clinician schedules (41%), streamline workflow (32%) and help them stay connected with peers and other clinicians (28%). Only 11% said they didn’t see any benefits to virtual care.

Given these advantages, you might think that physicians were gung-ho about virtual care adoption – but you’d be wrong. Just over a third (38%) have rolled out email/patient portal consultations, and 17% are conducting physician-to-physician electronic consultations. Only 14% are conducting virtual/video visits.

On a side note, I was interested to learn adoption of such technologies is higher among primary care physicians than specialists. The survey found that 48% of primary care physicians have implemented portals, compared with 34% of specialists, and that 17% of PCPs were offering video visits versus 13% of specialists.

Meanwhile, I was interested to learn that 43% of respondents who had electronic consultation tools at their disposal connected with colleagues at least once a week. In fact, I’m surprised to learn that this is even happening– electronic consults with between doctors and their peers was not on my radar.

But I wasn’t taken aback to learn that physicians employed or affiliated with hospitals and health systems (62%) made regular use of at least one virtual care technology. After all, hospitals are generally ahead of other providers when it comes to telemedicine. (For example, check out Intermountain’s virtual hospital program.)

Bottom line, physicians still face big obstacles to rolling out virtual care, including a need for training (51%), a lack of access to this technology (35%) and worries about security and privacy of patient data (33%).

All told, when I read about their reasonable objections, low physician adoption of virtual care makes a whole lot more sense. Until these concerns are addressed little is likely to change.