“The doctor will see you now.”
Those words, uttered by nurses in waiting rooms since the dawn of the medical practice, are spoken a bit less frequently in recent years. Increased adoption of telehealth means fewer patients are driving to a physical building and sitting in a waiting room before an appointment with a physician. Instead, they are picking up their smartphones and logging on to request an appointment, and in some cases, they are seen in a matter of minutes. Patients are thrilled with the time savings, and in many cases, they feel the experience overall is equal to or better than the experience of seeing a provider in person, but how do physicians feel about telehealth? And what do you need to know if you plan to practice telemedicine?
Patient Demand Will Drive the Need for More Telemedicine Jobs
When physician offices shut down in response to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth visits were the only option available to many patients seeking routine care. While many organizations offered telehealth appointments prior to 2020, the pandemic quickly drove adoption to 78 times the level it was prior to February 2020. The benefits of telehealth during a pandemic were obvious–diagnosis and treatment with no risk of disease transmission–but it became immediately clear that the benefits extended far beyond curbing the spread of disease.
For patients, telehealth appointments can typically be scheduled faster than an in-person visit, they take less time out of the patient’s day, and they don’t require the patient to arrange childcare or ask for time off work. And for patients living in more remote areas, telehealth provides direct access to specialists they may have had to drive hours to see in person.
For these reasons, telemedicine remains extremely popular with patients. In fact, more than two years after the initial spike in telehealth adoption, a study from McKinsey suggests the volume of telehealth has found a new baseline that is still 38 times what it was pre-pandemic.
Will Patients Have Permanent Access to Telemedicine?
Despite the overwhelming popularity and undeniable benefits of telehealth, its future remains uncertain due to the still-temporary waivers allowing providers to treat patients across state lines. It’s also not clear if the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will continue to reimburse telehealth appointments at the same rate as in-person visits long-term. Until Congress approves permanent policy on the topic, it may be difficult for traditional healthcare organizations to incorporate telehealth into their long-term strategic plans.
Despite the uncertainties, patient demand for telehealth seems here to stay. In a November 2021 survey conducted by McKinsey, 55% of patients said they were more satisfied with their virtual visits than in-person appointments. According to a study by Wheel of 400 physicians and nurse practitioners, a majority of respondents expect virtual primary care visits to surpass in-person visits in the next five years.
Physician Attitudes Split on Telemedicine Jobs
Despite the way many were forced into practicing telemedicine, some physicians felt the benefits right away and even developed a preference for it. In the aforementioned Wheel survey, two out of three respondents said they prefer virtual-only or hybrid work. In a Jackson Physician Search whitepaper exploring the impact of COVID on the physician job market, physician recruitment leaders noted an increase in physicians seeking jobs that would allow them to practice telemedicine full or part-time.
The McKinsey study paints a slightly different picture. Its series of surveys showed shifting physician attitudes towards telehealth. In July 2020, the percentage of physicians saying telehealth visits were extremely effective was at its peak, and the figure declined with each subsequent survey, one conducted in November 2020 and the other in April 2021. The percentage of physicians recommending telehealth visits over in-person visits also declined.
Pros and Cons of Telemedicine Jobs
An obvious “pro” for telemedicine jobs is the opportunity it provides for physicians to work from home, eliminating commutes and the other hassles of working in an office. With physician burnout an ongoing industry concern, allowing physicians more flexible hours and the chance to work from home–at least some of the time–may help them find a better work-life balance. And of course, lest we forget the original benefit of telemedicine–the reason for the rapid adoption of telehealth–there is no risk of exposure to pathogens during a telehealth appointment. It also allows patients in rural or remote areas to receive the care they need.
There are also drawbacks to telemedicine. Telehealth visits are not appropriate for many patient scenarios, and some physicians feel something gets “lost” when evaluating patients through a screen. There are liability concerns, technology issues to contend with, and for now at least, instability surrounding telehealth policy and regulations.
Next Steps in Telemedicine Training
As healthcare organizations continue to modify care delivery to meet patient needs, it is likely more physician jobs will include some aspect of telemedicine. Medical schools are developing curriculum to train students in telehealth, and professional organizations such as the AMA now offer resources to establish telehealth best practices. At the organizational level, telehealth training will likely become an essential part of physician onboarding.
No matter which camp you are in–team telehealth or team in-person–telemedicine appears to be here to stay. Patients will increasingly expect telehealth options as part of standard care delivery, so physicians must pursue training on telehealth technology and techniques in order to competently incorporate telemedicine into their practice.
If you are interested in incorporating telehealth into your next physician job, the Jackson Physician Search Recruitment Team would be happy to assist you in finding job opportunities that offer this benefit. Contact us today.