Doctor on telehealth visit with patient

Telehealth was critical to ensuring care continuity during the height of the pandemic in 2020, according to a survey of geriatricians by Genesis HealthCare.

Responses from about 20 physicians offer insight into the dramatic shifts in care delivery that occurred during this time period, the post-acute care provider revealed at the PALCT22 Annual Conference last weekend.

Use of the technology was heaviest during COVID-19 peaks from March through May of that year, the doctors reported. Most telehealth appointments were initiated for follow-up care, history and physicals, and regulatory exams. About half of the physicians performed more than 20 telehealth visits but almost 13% conducted more than 100 visits during the year. 

The choice to provide remote care was most frequently necessitated by facility COVID-19 outbreaks and the need to provide care in more than one building, said study lead Ana Gomes, DO, regional medical director of Genesis Physician Services. Most visits (80%) were conducted using Facetime, while 33% used Zoom, they said. Access to a smartphone or laptop and nurse assistance were vital to a successful visit, they added.

Nearly half of the doctors felt that the telehealth patient interactions were successful, but 20% reported feeling frustrated and 20% felt that telehealth was an “option of last resort.”

The biggest challenges doctors found were issues with Wi-Fi access and technical support at the facility level. Staffing shortages contributed to communication challenges as well, respondents said. Overall, however, these geriatricians felt that telehealth gave them needed access in constrained circumstances, Gomes and colleagues reported. 

“Physicians found telehealth instrumental in their ability to communicate directly with patients and their families, to discuss advance care planning, and support nursing staff in addition to complementing their medical practice,” they wrote.

Fully 64% of the physicians ended up agreeing that telehealth could contribute positively to their practice moving forward.

2 in 5 Medicare recipients relied on telehealth

Larger-scale evidence of Medicare beneficiaries’ substantial reliance on telehealth during the pandemic was borne out in a federal study released this month. More 2 in 5 beneficiaries used telehealth for healthcare services in 2020, at 88 times the amount used the prior year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Overall, these Medicare recipients received 12% of their services via telehealth during the first year of the pandemic, the agency’s Office of the Inspector General found.

Additional details on the Genesis study and other long-term care-specific research can be found via the AMDA conference portal.