Survey: 15 percent of family physicians used telemedicine in 2014

By Jonah Comstock
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According to a just-published 2014 survey of 1,557 US physicians, there’s a big disconnect between support for telehealth and actual use of telehealth technologies. While 78 percent of respondents believed that telehealth improved access to care, only 15 percent actually reported using telehealth services in the past 12 months.

The American Academy of Family Physicians published the results of their survey in a one-page policy paper in the journal American Family Physician. Their overly broad definition of telehealth is “the use of medical information exchanged from one location to another via electronic communications to improve a patient's health”.

In addition to 78 percent of respondents reporting a belief that telehealth improves access to care, 68 percent believed it improved continuity of care. However, they also identified a number of barriers to care. Chief amongst them was lack of training, which 54 percent identified as a barrier. Only slightly fewer — 53 percent — lamented the lack of reimbursement. Cost of equipment and potential liability issues were cited by 45 percent and 41 percent of the group respectively.

“Telehealth use is in the early stages of adoption,” the paper’s authors wrote. “Many of the barriers to wider adoption may be addressed by policy changes. 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.”

Interestingly, the 15 percent figure is still higher than the percentage of healthcare consumers that had used telehealth, according to a summer 2015 survey from Healthline. Just 9 percent of the 3,769 readers they surveyed had used a telehealth service for a minor illness. Within that group, 90 percent said their experience using telehealth services was the same or better than their experience at a doctor’s office. And 45 percent of respondents who said they have used a telehealth service also said they were unaware of these services two or three years ago.