Telehealth now serves unmet needs, says athenahealth

Andrea Fox

October 04, 2022

Virtual care is playing a more significant role in filling gaps in delivery, having evolved from pandemic-era visit replacement, according to a new study from the cloud IT developer.

Increased telehealth utilization points to wider use as a diagnostic and triage tool, particularly among those with chronic conditions.

WHY IT MATTERS

New research, based on a Dynata survey of 2,000 U.S. adults that was commissioned by athenahealth conducted in June and July of this year, and data on booked and completed appointments through the athenahealth electronic health record suggest telehealth is now integrated across the care continuum.

"Our data shows that after the height of the pandemic, many physicians continue to rely on telehealth, as they see the tremendous value it can provide," said Jessica Sweeney-Platt, vice president of research and editorial strategy at athenahealth, in a statement.

The use of telehealth is especially evident among those with chronic conditions.

While 24% of those surveyed say their health concern didn't warrant an in-person visit, 23% of respondents indicated their telehealth visits were scheduled check-ins related to chronic conditions, and 9% used telehealth as well for ad hoc care for their conditions.

The respondents with chronic conditions reported using telehealth in place of as well as between visits to help manage their conditions, suggesting telehealth is serving a previously unmet need for proactive healthcare.

Telehealth has also increased the willingness of patients to seek mental healthcare, with 25% of survey respondents indicating they opted for telehealth sessions to address new mental health conditions.

Twenty-three percent shared that they were more likely to ask for mental health support because telehealth was available to them.

The findings also revealed patterns of use based on gender and race. The EHR data from January 1, 2019, through April 30, 2022, evaluated in the study showed that in 2021, male providers had 24% lower odds of providing a telehealth visit than their female counterparts.

Provider gender also affected patient adoption of telehealth. Patients who worked with a single male provider had 60% lower odds of adoption compared to patients with only a female provider.

"Additionally, previous research has shown that female clinicians tend to spend more time with patients, which could further explain higher provider adoption of telehealth among females compared to males, with female providers using telehealth as an additional tool for connecting with patients," said Sweeney-Platt.

The research also showed Black and Hispanic patients were more likely to use telehealth services, but less likely to do so with one dedicated provider, suggesting improved access to care but not improved continuity of care.

THE LARGER TREND

A previous study of 40.7 million commercially-insured adults in the United States – a study of a nationally representative population – published earlier this year found that patients with acute clinical conditions who first sought care via telehealth were more likely to follow up at the emergency room or be admitted to the hospital that those who sought care in person.

However, when it came to chronic conditions, follow-up was less likely for those with an initial telehealth visit, finding telehealth comparable to in-person care.

The researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, along with collaborators from Blue Health Intelligence and the Digital Medicine Society compared telehealth and in-person encounters by looking at factors associated with changing patterns of telehealth use beyond the initial months of the pandemic.

ON THE RECORD

"Our research brings to light the vital role telehealth can play in patient care. Not only does it increase access to care, but it can drive better patient outcomes when used as an extension of in-person visits to provide continuity of care," said Sweeney-Platt in announcing the findings.

"Telehealth is now a core tenet of healthcare delivery in the U.S.," said Greg Carey, director of regulatory and government affairs at athenahealth, according to a prepared statement about telehealth fulfilling its promise on the company's website.

Correction: The original version of the article indicated that the Dynata survey was of athenaOne network patients.

Andrea Fox is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Email: afox@himss.org
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS publication.

See original article: https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/telehealth-now-serves-unmet-needs-says-athenahealth