Telehealth concerns rise

SUMMARY: Once again, the “hype” may be bigger than the reality around telehealth. First, people aren’t always completely honest with their doctors. A recent study published in the journal JAMA Network Open found that 60 to 80 percent of patients have been less than fully forthright with their doctors at some point which can be worse with telehealth. According to a survey, close to 60% of physicians have lingering reservations about the quality of care they can provide remotely.

Insurers are starting to embrace telehealth because it saves them money compared to in-office patient visits but HCP’s have valid concerns. Evaluating a patient involves a lot more than lab tests and some brief vital signs. Physicians also need to talk with patients in person to determine if what they are saying is true and to what extent.

I am reminded of a PCP who told me, in research via Zoom, that a patient he had seen who was obese said she was losing weight in a telehealth call. However, given her symptoms, he was afraid that she had gone from being a prediabetes candidate to full diabetes. He finally coaxed her into the office, where the doctor had observed that she gained an additional 12 pounds and was out of breath from walking to the examination room.

“When I examine a patient, their demeanor in the office can tell me a lot about why they are here,” the HCP told me. “Most patients report their weight as 10-20% lower than it actually is, so I need to see a. patient remind them of the dangers of obesity”.

Telehealth can certainly be used for some physician interactions, such as requesting an Rx refill or a mild health issue. Still, the dangers of not visiting a doctor can be increased if an HCP can’t fully diagnose a patient in person.

What can pharma do?

Pharma companies need to work closely with doctors to remind patients that telehelath is not always a replacement for a physician-patient consultation. Sometimes a doctor needs to see a patient in person to really diagnose health issues.

Pharma companies should be posting content on every product site to remind patients that not all health problems can be diagnosed via a computer screen. “There’s much more to diagnosing a patient ten just writing an Rx,” said one HCP on the call. Another told us, “I tend to order fewer lab tests when I talk to a patient on a telehealth call than in person.”

The media is talking about life slowly returning to normal as more people get vaccinated against COVID. One lab company executive said that he is preparing his company for an “onslaught of test requests” as COVID rates decline.

Telehealth will increase but we cannot lose site that in-person physician and patient consultations are necessary for good healthcare.