With hospitals and healthcare systems expanding telemedicine services lines and patients demanding more telemedicine access, the number of physicians practicing telemedicine has never been higher. In fact, a survey by Merritt Hawkins found that physicians treating patients via telemedicine has increased from 18% in 2018, to nearly 48% since the onset of COVID in 2020.
On the front line of this shift towards virtual care is VirtualMed Staff’s Director of Telemedicine Recruitment, Donna Frazier. With nearly a decade of experience recruiting and building telemedicine panels across the country, Donna has witnessed firsthand the changes taking place in the telemedicine market in response to COVID. “COVID-19 has changed the healthcare landscape permanently,” says Donna, adding “The demand for telemedicine physicians has grown substantially.”
We asked Donna to share insight into how COVID-19 is transforming telemedicine recruitment and what she anticipates moving forward in a post-COVID environment.
What hospitals learned about telemedicine from the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be a watershed moment for telemedicine, accelerating growth to levels never before seen. According to a report from McKinsey, telemedicine utilization is now at levels 38x times higher than before the pandemic. One of the main drivers of this adoption was the necessity for healthcare systems to continue to deliver healthcare safely and make up for lost revenue.
“Healthcare systems considered telemedicine as another source of revenue and a way to reach patient populations who were reluctant to come into their facilities,” says Donna. “So, in many ways, the driver for telemedicine was born out of necessity.”
According to Donna, many hospitals were surprised by what came next after shifting towards telemedicine. “Many hospitals found that they were seeing new patients because of the convenience, along with providing an additional valuable services they hadn’t offered before, increasing their reach into their patient population,” says Donna. “Patients were more willing to utilize telemedicine than hospitals anticipated, and in many ways, found telemedicine to be more affordable.”
This realization has led many hospitals to not only permanently incorporate telemedicine into their service offerings, but to also expand service lines that better serve their patient populations. “Hospitals were able to expand their reach and provide a valuable service to their patients,” says Donna.
Physician attitudes towards telemedicine also shifted in response to COVID-19, along with demand for virtual physicians – especially in one specialty.
Demand for telemedicine physicians is rising – especially in one specialty
At present, nearly 90% of physicians have treated patients remotely. Even more so, demand for telemedicine physicians has never been higher – especially for psychiatrists. “Demand for psychiatrists has skyrocketed,” says Donna. “It’s up 50% from the year before, especially addiction related psychiatry, which is up more than 60%,” Donna continues.
McKinsey confirms this surge in their own report, with demand for psychiatry (50 percent) and substance use disorder treatment (30 percent) experiencing the highest uptake of telemedicine penetration. Considering that during the pandemic, about 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. reported symptoms or depression, the increase in demand for psychiatrists and substance use disorder treatment isn’t surprising.
“I don’t expect these dramatic increases to continue, however, growth in psychiatry will continue to rise for several reasons, including the ongoing shortage and older psychiatrists retiring,” says Donna.
How have these changes impacted telemedicine recruitment?
“It’s a much more competitive market,” remarks Donna. “Instead of searching for candidates with four years of experience, we now look for any experience. But we’re definitely seeing more first-time doctors using telemedicine and enjoying it” However, Donna does anticipate that once the pandemic has waned demand will settle. “Demand will plateau, but we’re still going to see 10% -15% growth per year for psychiatry.”
Predictions for telemedicine moving forward
With telemedicine adoption surging in response to COVID-19, Donna anticipates that legislative changes will ensure telemedicine is here to stay. “Temporary legislative changes enabled healthcare systems to see patients virtually in the United States that may not have embraced telemedicine before,” says Donna. “Now that healthcare systems know it works and patients want telemedicine, those changes will likely become permanent.”
We’ve already seen several sweeping legislative changes and grants across the country. Recently, the federal government announced an investment of $19 million in telehealth resources centers, as well as $3.7 million to provide telehealth services at 15 Hawaii libraries.
Donna also anticipates doctors to continue to adopt telemedicine into their own practices and seek out virtual care opportunities. “If doctors were reluctant before the pandemic, they’ve embraced it now simply because they didn’t have a choice,” says Donna. “However, I’d say 80% of them are enjoying it and will continue to seek out telemedicine opportunities moving forward.”
The COVID-19 pandemic made a lasting impact on telemedicine recruitment and will continue to have a ripple effect for years to come. For new physicians curious about providing care virtually, Donna’s biggest recommendation is to simply, “Reach out and let’s talk. I’m always looking for the best physicians who will provide high-quality care to our patients and clients.”
If you’re interested in new telemedicine opportunities, visit VirtualMed Staff’s TeleJob Board to see what’s available. If you have questions, we have answers to the 3 most common questions a telemedicine recruiter receives here.