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Telemedicine is poised to grow as its popularity increases among physicians and patients

Physicians of almost all age groups show an interest in pursuing telemedicine jobs or service lines.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

It's no secret that telemedicine is becoming a hugely popular offering in healthcare. A recent Global Market Insights report found that the sector was worth about $38.3 billion in 2018, and that figure is projected to swell to $130.5 billion by 2025. There's a growing need in the U.S. to access medical care, and now with the technology catching up with that demand, telemedicine is well poised to do big business.

According to a new Doximity study, this is having an impact on physicians' jobs, and on the healthcare workforce more generally. From 2015-2018, the number of physicians who self-reported telemedicine as a skill doubled, and it continues to increase by about 20% per year.

That coincides with growth in telemedicine patient visits, which increased annually by 261 percent between 2015 and 2017.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT

The study's lead author, Chris Whaley, said Doximity's special network data showed that physician interest in telemedicine jobs are pretty much even across all age groups, indicating that healthcare professionals of all levels of experience seek or desire jobs in which telemedicine is at least a component.

Physician interest and engagement in telemedicine, in this case, were defined by a physician taking action in response to a job posting by clicking on a link to "see more," submitting a resume or scheduling an input call.

Under those parameters, actual engagement with telemedicine-related job postings was consistent across most age groups. While physicians 61-70 years old were less likely to have an interest, interest among other age groups was remarkable consistent: 28.4% for those 31-40 years old, 26.5% for those 41-50 years old, and 23.5% for those 51-60 years old.

It speaks to telemedicine's rapidly rising ubiquity.

"Telemedicine is growing for a couple of reasons," said Doximity's Dr. Peter Alperin. "One, in general, the physician shortage is leading to a limitation of specialty and primary care. Second, the technology is now available to allow physicians to do excellent consultations and services. And then third, just the fact that insurance companies are now starting to reimburse for the service, so there's now a financial model that makes this possible."

"This is a market that, 10 or so years ago, didn't exist," said Whaley. "The landscape has changed."

WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW

When evaluating the gender differences among physicians engaging with temporary positions, the study found that a significantly smaller percentage of women were interested in engaging with those short-term gigs, known as locum tenens positions. Men made up 73.6% of candidates, while only 26.4% were female candidates. Proportionately, 64% of all U.S. physicians are male, while 36% are female.

In terms of specialties, physicians specializing in anesthesiology, emergency medicine and radiology expressed the highest level of interest in locum tenens positions. Those in cardiology, pediatrics and family medicine were the least interested.

"For telemedicine, we found the most common specialties for doctors tend to be more primary care focused," said Whaley. "That is sort of a key component of telemedicine: It's designed to be your first entryway into medicine. For local physicians, in-person physicians, we found many of the most engaged physicians are from more advanced specialties."

Major metropolitan areas with a high cost of living and highly centralized medical hubs were the most likely places of residence for physicians interested in both telemedicine and locum tenens jobs. New York, Boston, Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Miami topped the list.

"I do think the future is bright for telemedicine," Alperin said. "There's a great opportunity for both physicians and for patients. A future where physicians can add telemedicine to their practice and patients can avail themselves of their possibilities will certainly pick up."

THE LARGER TREND

From 2016 to 2017, private insurance claim lines for services rendered via telehealth -- as a percentage of all medical claim lines -- grew 53% nationally, more than any other venue of care, according to FH Health Indicators, a white paper published in April by the nonprofit FAIR Health.
 

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com