Report: Telehealth programs increase workload for nurses and support staff


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Telehealth isn’t as widely utilized as it was at the dawn of the pandemic, but the care modality is definitely here to stay. However, many providers believe their telehealth program increases the workload for nurses and support staff, according to a recent report from research firm Sage Growth Partners. Providers also said they don’t think physicians enjoy using telehealth visits to treat patients.

In 2023, hospitals and physician practices will have to focus on making their telehealth workflows more efficient, which may involve partnering with third-party administrators, the report said.

For the report, Sage Growth Partners surveyed 95 health system executives and 75 leaders of physician practices in September. Practices with fewer than five physicians were excluded from the survey. 

Most respondents said that their organizations will focus on optimizing and sustaining their current telehealth programs in 2023 rather than expanding them. In fact, only about 10% of participants — 11% of hospitals and 8% of practices — said they are looking to grow their telehealth offerings next year.

Health system executives were more likely than practice leaders to say that telehealth visits should make up a higher percentage of their ideal in-person-to-telehealth visit mix. Health system leaders said the mix should be 30% telehealth and 70% office. Among practice leaders, the ideal mix looks more like 20% and 80%.

Their difference of opinion also extended to another question on how they think telehealth utilization will grow by visit type over the next two years.

Health system leaders said that utilization will fall slightly for most visit types — even behavioral health. They said that 36% of behavioral health visits were delivered via telehealth in September, but they expect this to fall to 33% in September 2024. Urgent care and telepathology were the two visit types for which health systems leaders predicted telehealth growth — they expect telehealth utilization to increase from 3% to 7% for urgent care and from 2% to 4% for telepathology.

Practice leaders expected telehealth utilization to increase slightly or remain the same for most visit types. Specialty care was the only exception — for this visit type, practice leaders predicted utilization to fall from 23% to 20% over the next two years.

Both groups agreed that telehealth actually increases burden on staff though practice leaders seem to feel it more acutely.

More than half of practice leaders said telehealth has increased support staff’s workload, and 28% said it generates more work for nurses. Among health system executives, 35% said telehealth increased support staff’s workload, and 30% said it creates more work for nurses.

Additionally, less than half of total respondents (46% of hospitals and 47% of practices) agreed that telehealth increases physician satisfaction and physicians like using telehealth visits to treat patients. 

A key reason for this is that many providers are operating their telehealth programs using inefficient workflows, according to the report. Nearly 60% of survey respondents said they have not yet created new workflows for telehealth visits. Instead, hospitals and physician practices are still relying on workflows that mirror in-person visits. 

In 2023, providers will need to improve these workflows, and many will consider bringing on the help of third-party telehealth administrators, such as Amwell or Caregility, the report said.

Hospitals are more than twice as likely to use third-party partners to administer telehealth services — with 20% of hospitals doing this compared to 9% of practices. Hospitals were also more likely to say they would change their telehealth administering party over the next two years — with 44% of hospitals saying this compared to 25% of practices.

Photo: Anastasia Usenko, Getty Images

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