A study published last week in JAMA network open found that although the vast majority of physicians in a large regional health system had made the transition to include virtual care in their practice by December 2020, some were more likely to be early adopters than others .
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital retrospectively analyzed data from all 3,473 doctors providing outpatient care through the Mass General Brigham, which includes 12 hospitals.
âSome doctors may have been more agile than others in making the transition [to telehealth], potentially influencing the patient experience of physician access and availability, âthe research team wrote.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT
The research team notes that despite the hypothesis that a switch to virtual care fueled by COVID-19 happened ‘all at once’, it may not always have been the case – which has potentially led some unsafe patients to seek the care being left behind in person.
To analyze which doctors made the transition earlier, the researchers used data from Epic’s electronic health records to analyze visits between October 1, 2019 and December 31, 2020.
âSimilar to many large academic health care systems, the transition to virtual care in our system was accelerated rapidly at the time of the declaration of a public health emergencyâ on March 15, 2020, the study reads.
The researchers organized the doctors into four categories:
- Innovators (those with virtual tours before March 15, 2020).
- Early adopters (those who adopted telehealth during the week of March 15).
- Majority (those who adopt on March 22, 2020 or later).
- Persistent non-adopters (no adoption until December 31, 2020).
Of the 3,473 physicians, 13.8% were innovators, 45.0% were early adopters, 35.6% were âthe majorityâ, and 5.6% were persistent non-adopters.
Younger generations had higher proportions of innovators and early adopters, as did behavioral health physicians and primary care physicians.
Innovators and early adopters were also more often female, while physicians in surgical specialties and those born between 1928 and 1945 (also known as the silent generation) were less likely to be early adopters.
âInterestingly, we saw a slight increase in the odds of early adoption with [an] increasing percentage of patients who preferred to speak a language other than English, but a slight decrease in the chances of early adoption with an increasing percentage of patients from a racial or ethnic minority group, âthe study reads.
“Further work examining the interaction between physician patient panels and the adoption of virtual healthcare will be essential to ensure equitable access to care between patient groups,” the researchers noted.
THE BIGGEST TREND
While the initial spike in telehealth use has certainly stabilized, many physicians say they support the continued expansion of virtual care, with primary care being one of the potential avenues for future innovation.
At the same time, however, they stress the importance of policy changes to help overcome existing challenges, including reimbursement clarity and training to use technology more effectively.
ON THE RECORD
“While we have not collected data to explore why some physicians have or have not embraced virtual health care, there are several plausible explanations,” the report reads. JAMA network open to study.
âFor example, the pandemic’s toll on women in care roles has been well described, and this group may have found that virtual care offered a flexible solution that allowed them to balance or maintain their many roles. Â», He continued.