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Telemedicine Continues to Connect Patients with Their Physicians

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Texas physicians’ adoption of virtual visits with their patients increased significantly during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many patients continue to use telemedicine to see their doctor. Image for illustration purposes
Texas physicians’ adoption of virtual visits with their patients increased significantly during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many patients continue to use telemedicine to see their doctor. Image for illustration purposes
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Have you used telemedicine to see your doctor? If so, you’re not alone: Three out of four Texas physicians use telemedicine to see patients, according to a survey by the Texas Medical Association (TMA).

Texas physicians’ adoption of virtual visits with their patients increased significantly during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many patients continue to use telemedicine to see their doctor.

“What we saw from the pandemic is that health care has evolved, and with it, access to care,” said El Paso infectious disease specialist Ogechika Alozie, MD, a former chair and current member of TMA’s Committee on Health Information Technology (HIT). He uses telemedicine for at least one out of 10 patient visits in his practice.

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The federal government also found use of telemedicine for Medicare patients – seniors and people with permanent disabilities – jumped tenfold across all physician specialties during the start of the pandemic, from five million to more than 53 million. 

According to the January 2023 TMA survey, approximately 75% of Texas doctors use telemedicine for about one in 10 visits. Physicians choose telemedicine when it allows them to provide the same high-quality care as an in-person encounter. Doctors may choose a traditional exam-room visit for more complex medical issues or those requiring physical examination.

“For me the largest decider of a telemedicine visit is the patient,” said Dr. Alozie. “It needs to be convenient for them. After that, it’s a question of their clinical condition and can I do what I need over a video camera; but for me it comes down to patient choice.”

The federal government study showed office visits and psychotherapy appointments were the most common services to see an increase in demand. Behavioral health visits remain a driver.

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Austin family physician Jacob Childers, MD, refers patients to a digital psychiatry and counseling service to see mental and behavioral health professionals in virtual visits. He says telemedicine advancements present a win-win for patients and physicians.

“Telehealth opens a pathway to more appointment options and thus more timely care for patients and a more flexible work schedule for physicians,” said Dr. Childers, who also is a member of TMA’s Committee on HIT. He sees many patients with behavioral health needs choosing telemedicine for otherwise inaccessible specialists due to distance, a lack of appointment times, or cost.

He also anticipates telemedicine acceptance will continue to increase as patients and physicians become more comfortable with using technology instead of an exam-room interaction.

“I believe the right doctor, your doctor, is best equipped to assist you,” said Thomas Kim, MD, an Austin psychiatrist and long-term advocate of telemedicine for caring for his patients. “When your doctor is empowered and becomes skilled with telehealth, he or she will use that option when appropriate, indicated, or necessary.”

Dr. Childers also noted recent developments to expand broadband access across Texas, particularly in rural areas. Texas passed legislation and a constitutional amendment in 2023 to increase funding for broadband service. TMA supported the initiative because expanding broadband can increase patient access to physicians’ care via telemedicine. An estimated 7 million Texans in 2.8 million households were without broadband internet access according to the Texas Comptroller in 2022.

Another legislative issue brewing could affect telemedicine use: Health insurance companies prefer not to pay physicians the same for a patient’s telemedicine care as an in-person visit. TMA believes health plans should pay doctors for a covered service (when the insurance policy covers the patient’s specific care or treatment) at the same rate whether it is delivered in a conventional in-office visit or a telemedicine visit. TMA will continue to push for Texas legislation supporting equal pay for equal medical care. Congress recently adopted the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 which allows telemedicine payment parity for Medicare services through the end of 2024.

TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 57,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 110 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans. 

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