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Most hospitals and health systems plan to enhance their current telehealth offerings going forward
In 2020, telemedicine saw a huge surge; these services had been widely available for a while but underused, with many of physicians not offering them at all prior to the pandemic. As of earlier this year, 85% of them were using telehealth, a major switch in a small amount of time.
It turns out that not only do patients, but so do practice-based physicians and hospital-based C-suite executives, as most of them plan to enhancing their telehealth programs going forward, according to a report from research firm Sage Growth Partners.
Only 11% of hospitals, and 8% of practices, said they were looking to expand telehealth offering, but a large percentage of hospitals, 45%, and practices, 35%, said their plan was to optimize their current program.
When asked about sustainability, meaning continuing to offer services that seamlessly integrate with in-person care, 35% of practices said they plan to do so, while 15% of hospitals said the same.
That being said, a surprisingly large number of both hospitals and practice are still in the earliest stages of telehealth: 13% of hospitals said they are still figuring out telehealth, and 20% said they are just getting started, while those numbers were 15% and 7%, respectively, for practices. That means that, nearly three years after the pandemic began, one-third of hospitals, and nearly a quarter of practices, barely have any telehealth set up at all.
"It’s interesting to see that many C-suite executives said their hospitals are still figuring out or getting started with telehealth. We do know that many organizations quickly stood up a telehealth program using smart phones and Zoom. It’s likely that they are looking to create more sustainable and scaleable solutions for their patients," Sage wrote in the report.
In terms of sectors, for hospitals the largest percentage of patient visits that are done via telehealth are behavioral health, with 36%, and primary care, with 21%. For practices, the largest percentage comes in specialty care, with 23%, with behavioral health following that with 13%.
Interestingly, both expect those numbers to drop over the next two years, while they also both expect to see a small rise in the percentage of urgent care visits and telepathology.Meanwhile, the biggest impact of telemedicine, by far, has been in patient access, which shouldn't be too surprising considering that's really the whole point of the technology.
For hospitals, 62% said telehealth has had a major impact in this area, while the same was true for 73% of practices. The other major impact has been in patient satisfaction, with 57% of hospitals and 60% of practices reporting this. As such, these also continue to be the main reasons why both hospitals and practice are interested in continuing to provide care via telehealth going forward: 86% of hospitals and 79% of practices said they want to do so to reduce patient barriers to access care, while 79% of hospitals and 76% of practices said they want to increase patient satisfaction.
The survey also found that a large percentage of physicians and hospital executives are satisfied with the care their organizations can provide by telehealth, and that the majority also see positive clinical outcomes, such as avoided visits to the emergency department.
So, patients are seeing value from telehealth, as are doctors, and healthcare executives. Not everyone is reaping the benefits, though, as nurses and healthcare staff are taking the brunt of the additional work that telehealth required.
A majority of respondents from practices said telehealth has increased the workload of their support staff, and 28% said it creates more work for nurses. For hospital executives, 35% said telehealth increases the workload for support staff, and 30% said it requires nurses to do more work.
As a result, many practices said they are considering partnering with a third party to deliver telehealth services: while 88% of respondents said their practice currently administers telehealth visits independently, 25% said their practice is likely to change the administering party over the next two years.
"A key improvement focus for many practices and hospitals will be determining how to create more efficient and seamless telehealth workflows for support staff and clinical teams and to expand their capacity to see more patients. Many hospitals and practices will also begin evaluating third-party telehealth administrators, if they are not partnering with them already," Sage said in the report.
"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."
(Image source: elitelearning.com)
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