Two American Medical Association (AMA) researchers recently evaluated the data from the 2016 Physician Practice Benchmark Survey of AMA in order to estimate telemedicine usage among physicians. The AMA’s survey was the first national survey to examine physicians’ telemedicine utilization rates. Upon examining telemedicine use in patient interactions and in consultations with other health care professionals, the researchers found that particular specialties have higher rates of telemedicine utilization than others, and a larger practice size correlated with a higher likelihood to engage in telemedicine.
In 2016, 15.4 percent of physicians worked for practices that utilized telemedicine for patient interactions, which range from e-visits to diagnoses made over store-and-forward methods of transmitting data. The highest telemedicine usage was among psychiatrists and cardiologists to manage chronic disease, and pathologists and radiologists for diagnoses or treatments.
When it came to conferring with other health care professionals, 11.2 percent of doctors worked for practices that used telemedicine in this manner throughout 2016. Emergency medicine physicians, pathologists, and radiologists logged the highest usage rates.
Next, the researchers analyzed the characteristics of the various practices. Practices with four or fewer physicians reported the least telemedicine usage—8.2 percent for patient interactions and 3.6 percent for consults. On the other hand, practices boasting at least 50 physicians reported 26.5 percent usage for patient interactions and 22.8 percent for professional consults. Upon comparing solo practices, group practices, and hospitals, the same pattern held true: the fewer the physicians on staff, the lower the likelihood of using telemedicine for both patient interaction and consultations with other health care professionals. The fact that larger practices and and practices not physician-owned had higher telemedicine usage suggests that the financial burden of implementing telemedicine is a serious barrier to its adoption among smaller practices.
Interestingly, in 2016, physicians in nonmetropolitan locations were only slightly more likely to use telemedicine than physicians in urban areas (16.8 percent versus 10.9 percent), and no significant differences were detected in telemedicine usage between states with and without parity laws.
Overall, the researchers concluded that despite changes in regulation and legislation to encourage telemedicine usage, the financial burden of implementation remains a crucial barrier for small and mid-size entities. The beauty of swyMed as a telemedicine platform is its versatility; it can be customized to work with small or large practices, and since it can be paired with existing equipment, the initial outlay becomes significantly less than it would be for a platform with proprietary software and hardware.
To read more about the study, visit the AMA website here.