An exciting new area of health information technology is telehealth, and the practice is steadily growing in popularity among clinics and physicians. Telehealth is made possible by access to electronic health records, which provide patient information and can help a physician more accurately diagnose a patient remotely. In the digital age, telehealth could play a key role in the future of healthcare. Despite this, there are a number of issues that could hinder its nationwide implementation.
An exciting future?
A new study by Anthem's Robert Graham Center, in partnership with the American Academy of Family Physicians, took a more comprehensive look at the expanding industry through an examination of physician attitudes to the use of telehealth. Some 1,557 family physicians were arbitrarily selected for the study. Researchers found that a number of surveyed physicians are coming to embrace the practice of telehealth, but that a few areas of significant concern still remain.
Study authors began with an emphasis on the exciting potential of telehealth for the future of medical care. The study dossier found that telehealth is often understood as a potential future strategy for the improvement of the healthcare industry. And this excitement is seemingly reflected in the study results. The project surveyed both non-users and users of telehealth technology, and discovered a general consensus across both groups that telehealth possesses the ability to help patients in several notable ways: it could cut travel times, offer greater access to care and improve continuity.
In terms of physician engagement, researchers discovered that telehealth services are more popular with younger doctors, who have practiced medicine for a decade or less. Furthermore, a vast majority of surveyed telehealth users also employed EHRs - the figure stands at around 98 percent. Geographically speaking, the study discovered that telehealth is more greatly employed in rural areas when compared with urban settings. Some 11 percent of surveyed practitioners use telehealth in urban areas, compared to 29 percent of users based in rural locales.
Areas of concern
Despite clear optimism, surveyed physicians relayed a number of anxieties about telehealth use. The most significant worry pertained to a basic lack of guidelines for standard reimbursement. The study revealed that many practitioners were unhappy about a basic lack of guidance over how to receive payment.
"It's clear from our findings reimbursement remains one of the largest barriers to the use of telehealth in primary care," stated Dr. Andrew Bazemore, a study author, according to Healthcare IT News.
The survey found that a large majority of physicians would be more open to the idea of telehealth if they were adequately paid for their work.
Study authors also discovered another pressing concern: inadequate training on telehealth services. Physicians expressed unease over a lack of effective training programs, as well as anxieties over patient data security. As with any kind of digital record or interaction, patient data is at heightened risk of security breaches with telehealth services.
US falling behind
Irrespective of the problems outlined in the study, on a global scale, telehealth engagement is growing quickly. According to GlobalMed, the United Kingdom is a leading nation when it comes to telehealth employment, with a majority of practices in the country using some form of telehealth technology. In contrast, the United States is lagging behind, and is one of the slowest nations to adopt the practice.
Telehealth has the potential to change the future of healthcare for the better. After all, it can be used to reach patients who otherwise wouldn't have access to a physician, and it can also make doctor-patient interactions more efficient. The study authors detailed these exciting possibilities, but also stressed that a number of strategies must now be designed in order to deal with the roadblocks to widespread telehealth engagement outlined above.