Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Survey: Va. Health Care Workers Increasingly Confident About Telehealth Use

(Photo by Anna Shvets/Pexels)

RICHMOND — As most temporary provisions expanding access to healthcare services through telehealth — spurred by the now-expired federal public health emergency (PHE) — continue to remain permanent in Virginia due to recent changes in state law, a new survey shows a growing amount of providers have confidence, and saw improvements, in the care offered to patients via telehealth.

The results of the second annual Benchmarking Telehealth Usage in Virginia survey, conducted by the Virginia Telehealth Network, were released earlier this month. The Virginia Telehealth Network is a nonprofit membership organization that promotes telehealth — a term for direct clinical care provided at a distance using electronic communications — efforts in the commonwealth.

The survey shows 80% of providers using telehealth saw improvements in their patients’ continuity of care, and nearly 90% feel confident in the quality of care they’re able to offer patients via telehealth.

The survey took place this year from January through March and collected responses from over 10,000 active licensed healthcare providers — a 14% increase over the inaugural 2021 survey — with support from the Virginia Department of Health Professionals and the Virginia Department of Health. Over 75% of the providers reported using telehealth, while the majority of providers who don’t use it said the platform was not compatible with their practice area.

Providers also pointed to other benefits of telehealth. Nearly 90% agreed telehealth helped address barriers patients have when trying to access care, while over 75% agreed the platform allows them to see more patients. Over half took on new patients beyond their local community, showing the capability for health care providers to serve patients in historically underserved communities.

The feedback also comes after the PHE ended this May, which temporarily allowed a multitude of services, such as being able to have virtual appointments instead of in-person visits at a provider’s office and coverage for remote patient monitoring services.

Because of this, 76% of providers in the survey reported concern that the ending of the PHE would result in a reduction or removal of reimbursements for telehealth services, and 88% reported their patients would be disappointed if they stopped offering telehealth.

However, certain state laws passed over the last three years mean most of those temporary flexibilities have become permanent for both Medicaid enrollees and those with commercial insurance. The Mercury previously reported on which services still remain in place compared to those that have now expired.

Improvements from results in the 2021 survey include an increase in providers who plan to use telehealth more in the future, who said it allows for more schedule flexibility and who strongly agree it is an effective tool for providing care.

While 64.2% of providers previously reported their internet connectivity as a needed area of improvement for using telehealth, this number decreased by almost 10% this year. Similarly, there is a slight decrease this year in providers who previously reported internet connectivity (73.5%), access to devices (55.1%) and technical assistance (55%) as a needed area of improvement for patients using telehealth.

However, not all areas of improvement needed for telehealth saw a decrease compared to the initial survey. There is a slight increase in providers reporting reimbursement for services (58.8%) and interstate licensure (70.5%) as a needed area of improvement. Another needed area for improvement, interpreter services for patients, also rose slightly (36.5%).

The press release from the survey states as new legislation is introduced to expand telehealth access for all Virginians, the Virginia Telehealth Network, “points to these key findings and data in support of advancing the adoption, implementation and accessible integration of telehealth in the commonwealth.”

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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