Reimbursement, Patient Tech Issues Impede Telehealth Use, Health Execs Say

Though healthcare leaders see telehealth as critical to boosting patient access, they believe that reimbursement and patient technology issues are hindering more widespread telehealth use, according to a new report.

Released by the Center for Connected Medicine (CCM) at UPMC, the report is based on two surveys. The first polled healthcare executives on problems that have the greatest potential to be solved by digital health technology, areas of healthcare technology that have experienced the most significant progress in the last two years, and the most exciting emerging technologies. Fifty-three executives responded to the first survey.

The second focused on the top responses from the initial survey. Sixty-one leaders from 59 health systems answered quantitative and qualitative questions on their technology priorities. The research was conducted in consultation with KLAS Research and CCM partners.

Overall, 30 percent of executives who responded to the first survey cited telehealth as the area of healthcare technology that has seen the most significant progress or improvement in the past two years.

Survey respondents said that patient convenience was the biggest benefit of telehealth, according to the report.

Of 41 executives, 39 percent stated that the convenience telehealth affords patients, such as reducing travel barriers, is a top benefit of the care modality. About 24 percent of respondents said enabling access to care from specialists, like stroke or behavioral healthcare specialists, is a major telehealth benefit, and 22 percent cited telehealth’s ability to support continuity of care.

But there are several barriers to telehealth use as well. When 38 executives were asked what these barriers are, most noted reimbursement challenges (26 percent), followed by patient technology barriers (21 percent), and the lack of provider adoption (13 percent).

“Telehealth reimbursement is a big barrier,” said one chief medical information officer interviewed during the survey. “The reimbursements are okay right now, but we aren’t confident they will stay okay after the COVID-19 issues resolve.”

Further, the report states that most health system leaders feel that available telehealth platforms adequately meet physicians’ needs, with smaller hospitals being more likely to be satisfied in this area.

On the flip side, one-third of respondents said that telehealth platforms are not adequately addressing physician workflow and care delivery needs, citing issues like the lack of EHR integration.

In general, telehealth use has dropped since its peak in 2020. The report shows that in 2022, more than half of healthcare organizations (51 percent) used telehealth for less than 10 percent of appointments, and 30 percent used telehealth for 11 to 20 percent of appointments.

“Telehealth continues to evolve while organizations consider their long-term strategies, the report states. “Even though many health system leaders feel telehealth has a great impact on patient access, the post-pandemic reality has produced some new challenges.”

Several recent reports have tracked telehealth use, with some showing how patients from different backgrounds have engaged with the care modality.

For instance, research published last month showed that high proportions of Black adults, adults between 20 and 39 years, adults with less than a high school education, and low-income adults were using telehealth in March 2021.

Conducted by the nonprofit research organization RAND Corp., the report is based on responses from 1,600 US adults who participated in the RAND American Life Panel. The survey also revealed that Americans’ willingness to use video-based telehealth jumped from 51 percent in February 2019 to 62 percent in March 2021.