WATERTOWN, Mass.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Use of telehealth, which increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, not only remains substantially above pre-pandemic levels but has also emerged as both a key diagnostic tool and treatment vehicle, according to new research from athenahealth. The findings, announced today by athenahealth, a leading provider of network-enabled software and services for medical groups and health systems nationwide, suggest telehealth is now integrated across the care continuum. Additionally, the findings indicate telehealth is playing a larger role in care delivery and may be filling crucial care gaps for patients as it has evolved past its early pandemic function of simply replacing in-person visits.
Twenty-four percent of respondents said they used telehealth because they felt their health concerns did not warrant an in-person visit, indicating telehealth can serve as a tool for more frequent check-ins as well as preventative care that might otherwise be unmet. The use of telehealth is especially evident among those with chronic conditions, with survey respondents reporting they use telehealth as a tool to manage their conditions (both in place of visits that would have otherwise been in person and for additional between visit check-ins). In fact, 23% of survey respondents reported their telehealth visits were regularly scheduled check-ins related to chronic conditions and 9% of respondents said they used telehealth for ad hoc check-ins to address chronic conditions. These findings suggest telehealth is serving an unmet need, allowing patients to access the care they want without being seen in-person.
Gender and Race
The research findings highlighted strong gender differences in telehealth adoption and use, with male patients and providers both significantly less likely to utilize/offer telehealth services. In 2021, male providers had 24% lower odds of providing a telehealth visit than their female counterparts, a disparity that increased over time. From the patient side, males had 15% lower telehealth use compared to female patients. In addition, provider gender affected patient adoption of telehealth, particularly after adjusting for other patient characteristics. Patients who worked with a single male provider had 60% lower odds of adoption compared to patients with only a female provider.
“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. “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.”
The findings also revealed different usage patterns based on race. While the research showed Black and Hispanic patients were more likely to use telehealth services than their White counterparts, they were less likely to do so with a single, dedicated provider, suggesting improved access to care but not improved continuity of care.
The research also showed that individual appointments held at Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) practices were still more likely to be in-person, though follow-up appointments at a FQHC practice were more likely to be virtual. These findings indicate that FQHC centers are using telehealth as a tool to improve continuity of care.
Sweeney-Platt added: “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.”
Telehealth has also emerged as a critical tool in increasing the ability and willingness of patients to engage in mental healthcare, according to the research. Twenty-five percent of survey respondents indicated they attended a telehealth visit to address a new mental health concern and 23% said they were more likely to seek out mental health support because of the availability of telehealth.
Additionally, mental health diagnoses were much more likely to be identified in a telehealth visit than an in-person appointment, suggesting that telehealth can serve as a powerful diagnostic tool as well as a treatment vehicle.
For more information on this research, please click here.
This report presents trends in telehealth usage among athenaOne network patients between January 1, 2019 and April 30, 2022. Our dataset included any appointment booked at a practice using the athenahealth EHR, where the appointment was successfully attended. This report also includes results from a patient survey conducted in June and July of 2022. The online survey, completed by 2,000 adults in the United States, was commissioned by athenahealth and fielded by Dynata, a global market research firm.
About athenahealth, Inc.
athenahealth creates innovative healthcare technology that connects clinicians, patients, payers, and partners in differentiated ways. Our electronic health record, revenue cycle management, and patient engagement tools allow anytime, anywhere access, driving better financial outcomes for our customers and enabling our provider customers to deliver better quality care. In everything we do, we’re inspired by our vision to create a thriving ecosystem that delivers accessible, high-quality, and sustainable healthcare for all. For more information, please visit www.athenahealth.com.