Physicians don’t like telehealth as much as their patients due to distractions, tech barriers

The data: Telehealth bookings dropped from 33% of all appointments in May 2020 to only 17% by May 2022, according to a new report from Zocdoc.

Physicians don’t like telehealth: At least not as much as their patients do.

  • 60% of physicians said it was “more difficult” or “much more difficult” to examine patients through telehealth than in person.
  • Meanwhile, only 15% of patients said it wasn’t possible to get the same quality of care through telehealth.

Tech issues and patient examination barriers are common physician complaints with virtual care. Providers like ENT docs, OB-GYNs, or dermatologists want to conduct procedures or exams that can’t always be conducted virtually.

Plus, non-clinical factors (mainly distractions) made it difficult for some physicians to conduct their visits. Among many things making it difficult to deliver care virtually, physicians noted:

  • Seeing patients’ pets (14%).
  • Seeing family members or roommates (6%).
  • Something “funny” (3%) in the background.

Sentiment may be stronger for telemental health: Despite the drop in booked telehealth visits, telemental visits remained a bright spot.

  • In 2020, 25% of psychiatrist appointments were handled in person.
  • By 2021 and 2022, patients conducted just 15% of psychiatrist appointments in person.

Psychologist appointments skew toward telehealth, too.

  • In 2020, about 20% of booked psychologist appointments were in person.
  • That fell to 13% in 2021 and tipped back up to 18% in 2022 (but still remained below 2020 levels).

Primary care is primarily in person: In-person primary care appointments are climbing this year versus early in the pandemic.

  • In 2020, about 58% of patients opted to visit their primary care physician in their office.
  • That steadily increased throughout 2021 (87%) and dropped only slightly (83%) in 2022.

The big takeaway: Telehealth is becoming less of a priority for patients as the urgency of COVID-19 wanes. It would be a smart bet for telehealth giants to double down on mental health offerings, though.

US adults’ telehealth usage decreased 6.1% in March alone, per nonprofit Fair Health’s tracking of medical claim lines. Researchers attributed the drop in telehealth adoption to the reduction of COVID-19 cases during that month.

Some companies are already renewing their focus on telemental health to keep consumer interest.

  • For example, in March, Amwell’s SilverCloud Health platform launched a program featuring video content and interactive tools to improve family mental health, including support for new parents, teens, and children.