Physicians Still Keen on Telehealth Despite Challenges

By Laura Beerman

New survey results indicate that “telehealth use will outlive the pandemic,” reported by Optum, UnitedHealth Group’s health services division, conducted fall 2021, which captured physician telehealth utilization including opportunities and frustrations. Below are four highlights from the survey.

1. Very few providers plan to stop using telehealth post pandemic.

In a survey of 240 providers, mostly primary care physicians (PCP), 93% intend to keep using telehealth. Most common uses include primary and chronic care visits as well as prescription refill needs (75%, 72%, and 64%, respectively). Urgent and post-procedure care represented 38% and 28% of visits. PCPs also used telehealth to support patient mental health needs (36%).

2. Telehealth preferences vary.

Provider responses indicated that older technologies have given way to new telehealth preferences when it comes to visits and communication, but not scheduling. Video was used in 88% of visits while pre-pandemic communication channels such as secure messaging (30%), email (12%), text messaging (7%), and chatbots (3%) lagged. The telephone remained highly favored for both visits and scheduling at 80% and 86%, respectively.

3. Virtual care both convenient and frustrating.

Like patients, providers have benefitted from telehealth with 69% emphasizing its convenience. Nearly 30% of providers, however, also find it frustrating—citing not only telehealth’s technical difficulties (50%) but the added challenges it presents for delivering quality care (58%) and managing patient expectations (55%).

4. Providers see need for “bridging digital divide.”

The survey notes that most stakeholders “adopted virtual care as recently as the start of the pandemic.” As such, it comes as no surprise that providers and patients alike needed a crash course in navigating virtual medicine. While providers see a need for ongoing digital training for patients and staff, Optum’s DocASAP co-founder and CEO Puneet Maheshwari states: “The innovations utilized over the past two years and the convenience they have brought to providers and patients should not be left behind.” DocASAP is Optum’s patient access and navigation enablement platform used by health plans, health systems, and physicians.

Laura Beerman is a contributing writer for HealthLeaders.