Psychiatrists’ Telehealth Use ‘Well Above’ Other Specialists

By Anuja Vaidya

Psychiatrists were the top users of telehealth in 2022, with 83 percent saying they had conducted a video visit the week prior in an American Medical Association (AMA) survey.

The AMA released a Policy Research Perspective last month that analyzes data from the AMA’s Physician Practice Benchmark Surveys 2018-2022 and the 2022 quarterly Medicare Carrier Standard Analytic Files. The benchmark surveys are nationally representative surveys of post-residency physicians who provide at least 20 hours of patient care per week. The 2018, 2020, and 2022 surveys had response rates of 36 percent, 38 percent, and 31 percent, respectively, and sample sizes of 3,500.

Telehealth usage rose with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic but has since dropped, though utilization remains higher than pre-pandemic levels, the data shows. In 2018, 25.1 percent of physicians were in a practice that used any form of telehealth. This figure skyrocketed to 79 percent in 2020 before declining to 74.4 percent in 2022.

Similar trends were seen in the use of specific telehealth modalities. About 14.3 percent of physicians were in a practice that used videoconferencing for patient visits in 2018, rising to 70.3 percent in 2020 and dropping to 66.3 percent in 2022. Two-thirds of physicians in 2020 were in a practice that used audio-only telehealth for patient visits. By 2022, that figure dropped to 60.3 percent. The prevalence of remote patient monitoring increased from 10.4 percent to 19.9 percent between 2018 and 2020 and then grew to 21.5 percent in 2022.

The data also reveals changes in telehealth use rates for different healthcare services. Only 9.9 percent of physicians worked in practices that used telehealth to manage patients with chronic disease, and 15.6 percent in practices using telehealth to diagnose or treat patients in 2018. By 2020, these percentages had jumped to 59.2 percent and 58 percent, respectively, before declining slightly to 54.9 percent and 49.8 percent in 2022.

Telehealth use among psychiatrists and other mental health providers was “well above that of physicians in other specialties,” the Policy Research Perspective notes. A little over 83 percent of psychiatrists said they provided a video visit the week before the survey, compared to 66.8 percent of primary care physicians, 64.3 percent of medical specialists, and 45.3 percent of surgeons.

Further, 54.1 percent of psychiatrists conducted more than 20 percent of their visits through videoconferencing, and 27.2 percent conducted more than 60 percent of their visits through this method in 2022.

In contrast, only about 10 percent of physicians in primary care and medical specialties provided more than 20 percent of their weekly visits via videoconferencing, and only around 3 percent provided more than 60 percent of visits via video.

Additionally, psychiatrists were most likely to have provided an audio-only visit in the prior week (64 percent) in 2022, followed by primary care physicians (59 percent), medical specialists (55.9 percent), and surgeons (47.5 percent).

The research aligns with other analyses showing the ongoing popularity of telemental healthcare.

Recent data from Epic Research revealed that in the third quarter (Q3) of 2023, 37 percent of mental health visits occurred virtually.

Researchers analyzed 475 million telehealth and in-person visits between the second quarter (Q2) of 2019 and Q3 of 2023. The data was gathered from Cosmos, a collaboration of 222 health systems using Epic EHRs.

Though telemental health service use rates were far higher in Q2 2020 at 65.5 percent, mental health continued to rank highest among the specialties still using telehealth widely in 2023. In Q3 2023, telehealth use rates for mental health visits were followed by infectious disease (11 percent), obstetrics (10 percent), and transplant (10 percent).

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