Even as the U.S. tries to navigate its way out of COVID-19, the telemedicine train accelerated by the pandemic is only picking up speed.
If your practice is considering getting on board, the Telehealth Initiative is offering free online access to multiple educational resources and tools that were part of a 12-month trial program designed to encourage telemedicine use.
The initiative – spearheaded by the Physicians Foundation, the Texas Medical Association, the American Medical Association (AMA), and two other state medical societies – lent its assistance to 24 practices and 168 clinicians beginning in January 2020. The program’s activities included six webinars, two extended virtual boot camps, two methods to measure success and gather feedback, and the creation of more than 100 resources, according to an issue brief from the Telehealth Initiative.
“Topics covered throughout the program included telehealth vendor evaluation and selection, designing telehealth workflows, engaging patients and addressing equity,” the issue brief said.
Resources from the initiative – such as guides and articles from TMA, AMA, and more – are now available to all practices.
According to a survey conducted in the middle of the trial program, 75% of participating practices said COVID-19 caused them to implement telemedicine sooner than anticipated.
The Telehealth Initiative also conducted one-on-one interviews with physician participants in November 2020. Before the program started, participants in general had not established telehealth services, the brief said.
“While some did provide telehealth [beforehand], it was rarely used by patients, and the platforms were often cumbersome,” the document said. “After The Telehealth Initiative, most were primarily using live audio-visual telehealth appointments to see patients, and some physicians reported to default to alternative platforms or audio-only phone visits if they or their patient was having technical issues accessing the video platform. Practices’ percentage of telehealth visits varied over the first months of the pandemic and the majority are now conducting a mix of in-person and telehealth.”
Participants’ views of telemedicine were generally positive, though some physicians identified negative effects such as virtual patient encounters being less joyful than in-person visits, and excess stress caused by adding televisits to their office schedule.
On the positive side, physicians said telehealth provided:
- A convenient way to connect to patients;
- Easier access to care for patients with schedule limitations or transportation challenges; and
- The ability to deliver care that many patients would otherwise have delayed or neglected during the pandemic.
Along with TMA, AMA, and the Physicians Foundation, the Florida Medical Association and the Massachusetts Medical Society participated in the Telehealth Initiative.
Those organizations “remain committed to collaborating on future telehealth resources, advocating on telehealth-related issues beyond the pandemic both on a federal and state level, and continuing to stay coordinated on implementation support nationwide,” the brief said.
Additional telemedicine resources are available in the TMA Telemedicine Resource Center.