Telehealth was critical to ensuring care continuity in skilled nursing facilities during the height of the pandemic, according to a survey of geriatricians by post-acute care provider Genesis HealthCare. The firm revealed the results of the survey at the PALCT22 Annual Conference in March.

Responses from about 20 physicians offer insight into the dramatic shifts in care delivery that occurred during this time period. For example, use of the technology was heaviest during COVID-19 peaks from March through May of 2020, 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 lead author Ana Gomes, DO, regional medical director of Genesis Physician Services. Access to a smartphone or laptop and nurse assistance were vital to a successful visit, the authors added.

Nearly half of doctors felt telehealth patient interactions were successful, but 20% reported feeling frustrated and 20% called telehealth 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 telehealth gave needed access in constrained circumstances. In addition, 64% of the physicians agreed that telehealth could contribute positively to their practice moving forward.

“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.