Patients and medical providers alike overwhelmingly preferred to conduct as many medical visits via videoconference as possible during the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic. In-person visits were fraught with dangers of viral spread, risks that were shared by all involved. Yet healthcare screening and care for the millions infected, the sick as well as those who were exposed but non-symptomatic, was at an all time high.
For the first time ever, widespread permission was granted in 2020, by Medicare, Medicaid and then followed by most major health insurance providers, to reimburse providers for extensive telemedicine services, allowing patients wide access to the service. The Amwell 2020 Survey of Practitioners and Consumers showed telemedicine met with overwhelming approval from both doctors and patients alike.
Today, even as we enter a second summer weather trough in the pandemic fight, when transmissions are lower, it appears widespread coverage of telemedicine visits is here to stay.
The Amwell study found that 92% of physicians expect to conduct telehealth services even after the pandemic. Among the strongest adopters of the technology according to the Amwell survey would be Emergency Medicine (89%), Infectious Disease (83%), and Psychiatry (80%), followed by Pediatrics (79%), Oncology (76%), and Neurology (75%). Primary Care (70%) also showed strong interest.
Patients also reported satisfaction with the experience, citing ease of use, convenience, faster service, cost savings, and safety among their reasons for adopting the technology.
For many years, patients and providers pressed patient health insurance carriers to relax their many restrictions on telehealth reimbursement. There were select lines of healthcare, such as overnight sleep medicine studies, that were making inroads with patient health carriers for reimbursement of telemedicine services. But for the most part, it was extremely difficult for most providers and patients to avail themselves of virtual medical visits, because patient health insurance would not often cover the cost.
Now that we have millions of virtual visits to study, it is clear that a high number of patients and providers support continuing this practice, including for primary care. We have a shortage of primary care physicians in the U.S., as a result of a more than 20 year downward trend of practitioners entering this area of medicine. In addition, a large share of the burden to create and maintain population health data falls to primary care offices as well.
High patient volumes, data demands, and consistently reduced reimbursement rates had many practitioners in a high pressure position. Patients found the demands of reaching in person visits, the waiting, the expense, and their own safety, were all improved by utilizing virtual medical visits when possible. Promotion of telehealth visits appears to be benefitting all involved on numerous fronts.
92% of providers said they expect to continue video visits after it is safe to see patients in person.