A study in Florida and New York found that primary care practice leaders faced challenges in implementing telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study highlighted the importance of prior telehealth experience for successful adoption. It also emphasized the need for clearer guidelines for telehealth visit triage. Varying telehealth regulations at the state level posed difficulties, and practice leaders expressed optimism about the future of telehealth. Additionally, a separate report showed that US primary care physicians believed telehealth effectively assessed mental and behavioral health needs compared to their international counterparts.
A recent study published in the Annals of Family Medicine sheds light on the challenges encountered by primary care practice leaders in Florida and New York while implementing telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study, conducted by researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, involved interviews with 25 primary care practice leaders from two health systems. The findings revealed valuable insights and highlighted the need for clearer guidelines in telehealth visit triage.
The study highlighted the significant role of prior experiences with virtual health platforms for both patients and physicians in the ease of telehealth adoption. Practices that had already established telehealth programs found it relatively easier to adapt to the new normal. However, practices without prior telehealth experience struggled with scheduling challenges due to the overwhelming demand. The study identified the importance of patient training on portal usage to ensure successful telehealth encounters.
Regulations governing telehealth vary across states, presenting additional obstacles during implementation. Although telehealth regulations were temporarily relaxed during the pandemic, the differences in state-level rules created complexities for practices. For instance, Florida’s emergency order restricted the prescribing of controlled substances exclusively to preexisting patients, creating disruptions in telehealth processes.
Furthermore, the study highlighted the lack of clear guidelines for telehealth visit triage. While respondents acknowledged that not all visit types were suitable for telehealth, the decision-making process for triage was left to individual practices, resulting in a patchwork of approaches. This inconsistency led to instances of “wasted appointments” for patients who required in-person care, posing potential risks to patient safety.
Despite the challenges, telehealth demonstrated several advantages, including enhanced access to healthcare services and the ability to bridge care gaps. However, it also led to clinicians working outside their regular office hours to accommodate patient needs.
A recent report from the Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey of Primary Care Physicians revealed that US-based primary care physicians (PCPs) believed telehealth allowed them to effectively assess mental and behavioral health needs compared to their counterparts in other countries. Approximately 75% of US PCPs reported that telehealth significantly or moderately facilitated mental and behavioral health assessments. This figure surpassed the proportions reported by physicians in Canada, Australia, the UK, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. Moreover, 72% of US PCPs considered telehealth implementation to be relatively easy, although this percentage was lower compared to other countries surveyed.
Overall. The study emphasized the need for clearer guidelines regarding telehealth visit triage and the establishment of telehealth-specific staffing and scheduling protocols. Practice leaders expressed optimism about the future of telehealth, recognizing its continued value in providing healthcare services.