A new survey finds that almost 60 percent of doctors are willing to meet with their patients via video – and just as many would refer their patients to a hospital that offered telemedicine consults with specialists.
The "Telehealth Index: 2015 Physician Survey" of more than 2,000 primary doctors, conducted by American Well and QuantiaMD, found strong support for video-based telemedicine over telephone or e-mail communications.
[See also: Patients: telehealth tops the doctor's office]
The survey comes at a time when telehealth providers like Boston-based American Well are making a strong push to qualify the video-based doctor's visit as comparable to a trip to the doctor's office, clinic or emergency room. In doing so, they're looking to expand the definition of a "face-to-face" visit to include video.
The move comes as some state medical boards are debating guidelines that would allow physicians to conduct their first visit with new patients via telemedicine, and also as the American Medical Association looks to draft a code of ethics that points out the value and drawbacks of telemedicine.
According to the survey, 57 percent of the physicians surveyed favor video visits, while 31 percent said they aren't sure and 12 percent rejected them outright.
“There’s a sea change going on within the physician community,” Roy Schoenberg, MD, CEO of American Well, said in a press release accompanying the survey. “Doctors see value in virtual visits for their patients and also in managing their own work-life balance. We’ve seen weekly physician inquiries about practicing online triple in less than six months.”
According to the survey, physicians feel that video visits will improve their workflow and boost income, rather than add new patients or keep the ones they have. Almost 80 percent cited "flexible work-life schedule" as their primary reason for wanting video visits, while 67 percent picked "earn more income" and 66 percent chose "improve patient outcome." On the other end of the spectrum, attracting new patients scored 41 percent and retaining existing patients took 37 percent of the vote.
When asked to evaluate the uses of telemedicine, 90 percent of physicians see it as a platform for delivering concierge services to fee-paying patients – a clear nod to the value of the platform in boosting the physician's bottom line. Other uses listed were medication management (86 percent), minor urgent care (85 percent), birth control counseling (83 percent), home healthcare (82 percent) and chronic condition management (80 percent).
Physicians also saw a value for telemedicine in specialty care consults. They listed dermatology, psychiatry, infectious disease, pain management, neurology and cardiology as the top specialty consults for which they'd use video visits.
When measured against other forms of telemedicine, almost 70 percent of physicians said video visits offer the most accurate diagnosis; 25 percent selected phone consults, while 5 percent chose e-mail and 1 percent selected text messaging.
Furthering that argument, almost half of the physicians surveyed who favor video visits said they'd move at least a quarter of their follow-up phone and e-mail communications with patient to video.
(Those results are a feather in American Well's cap at a time when the company is locked in a battle with fellow telehealth provider Teladoc over patent protections on some of its telemedicine technology. Dallas-based Teladoc, one of American Well's bigger competitors, bases roughly 70 percent of its platform on telephone consults, and is itself fighting state officials in Texas over first-visit guidelines.)