Telehealth Visits Surging Due to COVID-19, Survey of Physicians Finds

April 24, 2020
Other survey findings reveal that some physicians plan to change jobs, opt out of patient care roles or retire as a result of the COVID-19 crisis

Responding to the challenging patient care situation brought on by COVID-19, nearly half of all physicians (48 percent) are treating patients through telemedicine—a number that has risen from 18 percent in 2018, according to a new survey.

Conducted by Merritt Hawkins, a physician search firm and a company of AMN Healthcare, in collaboration with The Physicians Foundation, the survey aims to offer insights into how physicians are being affected by and are responding to COVID-19. The data also revealed that some physicians plan to change jobs, opt out of patient care roles or retire in response to the epidemic.

Key findings from the survey of more than 800 physicians include:

  •     38 percent of physicians are seeing COVID-19 patients
  •     60 percent of physicians who are not seeing COVID-19 patients are willing to do so
  •     21 percent of physicians have been furloughed or experienced a pay cut
  •     14 percent plan to change practice settings as a result of COVID-19
  •     18 percent plan to retire, temporarily close their practices, or opt out of patient care
  •     30 percent who are treating COVID-19 patients are feeling great stress but will continue to see patients

About one-third of physicians (32 percent) indicated that they will change practice settings, leave patient care roles, temporarily shut their practices or retire in response to COVID-19. This should be of particular concern to hospitals and other healthcare organizations already struggling with physician shortages and turnover, according to Travis Singleton, executive vice president of Merritt Hawkins.

“The impact on physicians from COVID-19 is going to be transformative,” he said.  “The way patients access physicians and how and where physicians practice will fundamentally change.” 

Gary Price M.D., president of The Physicians Foundation, further noted that even prior to the pandemic, physicians were expressing dissatisfaction in their jobs and experiencing high rates of burnout. “The pandemic is straining physicians further and we need to prioritize providing solutions that will ease the financial and emotional burdens they are feeling as a means to improve their wellbeing now and after the crisis is resolved.  It is the least we can do for the healthcare workers who are risking their lives to take care of everyone else,” he said.

On the virtual care front, The Physicians Foundation’s 2018 Survey of America’s Physicians found that approximately 18 percent of physicians indicated they were using telemedicine to treat patients.  That number has increased to 48 percent now, according to the new survey.  The use of telemedicine has been rapidly accelerated by the COVID-19 epidemic, which has spurred changes to reimbursement policies that had previously limited its use, according to Singleton. 

Over the past several weeks, experts have continued to tout virtual care as a way to help triage the sick and keep the worried well out of already-crowded medical facilities.

“One positive result of the pandemic is that barriers to accessing physician services through telemedicine may be reduced, which will be critical as the nation deals with a growing physician shortage,” Singleton said. 

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