Training, Adequate Payment Could Spur Greater Family Physician Use of Telehealth

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Contact:
Leslie Champlin
Senior Public Relations Strategist
(800) 274-2237, Ext. 5224
lchampli@aafp.org 

WASHINGTON, DC — Inadequate physician training and payment are putting telehealth—a service that enables patients to get care over long distances, share blood sugar or blood pressure results in real time, or get second opinions from subspecialists—out of reach for many Americans.

That’s the conclusion that can be drawn from research into family physicians’ use of and barriers to telehealth care. Robert Graham Center researcher Miranda Moore, PhD, currently assistant professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at Emory University, and her colleagues surveyed 1,557 family physicians in all practice settings. Their results, detailed in “Family Physicians Report Considerable Interest In, but Limited Use of, Telehealth Services(www.jabfm.org),” found fewer than two in 10 family physicians provided telehealth services. Of that number, nearly half did so fewer than five times over 12 months.

What’s stopping family physicians from using telehealth? More than half of survey respondents said they don’t have training in using the technology and insurers either don’t pay for telehealth or pay too little to compensate for the cost of providing the service. Four in 10 family physicians said the cost of telehealth equipment and concerns about liability stopped them from offering long-distance medical care.

“A surprisingly large 84 percent of telehealth users and 90 percent of nonusers reported at least one barrier to providing telehealth services in their practice,” Moore wrote.

The barriers are unfortunate, particularly given the potential for improved access to care. Family physicians who do use telehealth do so to diagnose and treat illness, provide follow-up care, provide chronic disease management, or during emergency situations. Telehealth also facilitates referrals to subspecialists, mental health professionals and allied health care professionals such as dieticians or physical therapists.

“If telehealth services are to have a major impact in the primary care setting, more physicians will need to become experienced in the use of these services,” Moore and her colleagues write. “Many impediments to wider adoption exist; however, many of these barriers are amenable to policy modifications. One suggestion for overcoming the training barrier is for family medicine residency programs to ensure that graduating residents are offered opportunities to use telehealth services. To address issues of reimbursement, governmental and private payers could engage in outreach efforts to increase awareness of their current allowed payments for telehealth and either expand the types of telehealth services currently eligible for payment or develop new ways to reimburse telehealth services.”

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About the Robert Graham Center

The Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care works to improve individual and population health by enhancing the delivery of primary care. The Center staff generates and analyzes evidence that brings a family medicine and primary care perspective to health policy deliberations at local, state, and national levels.

Founded in 1999, the Robert Graham Center is an independent research unit affiliated with the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). The information and opinions contained in research from the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of the AAFP.