The future of telemedicine visits after COVID-19: perceptions of primary care pediatricians

Isr J Health Policy Res. 2020 Oct 20;9(1):53. doi: 10.1186/s13584-020-00414-0.


BACKGROUND: Facing the global health crisis of COVID-19, health systems are increasingly supporting the use of telemedicine in ambulatory care settings. It is not clear whether the increased use of telemedicine will persist after the pandemic has resolved. The aims of this study were to assess the use of telemedicine by Israeli pediatricians before and during the first lockdown phase of the pandemic, and to elucidate how they foresee telemedicine as a medium of medical practice in the post-pandemic era.

METHODS: A web-based survey was distributed among Israeli pediatricians in May 2020, soon after the end of first lockdown was announced. The survey assessed the frequency of telemedicine use as well as its influence on clinical decision making before and during the first COVID-19 lockdown, using two hypothetical clinical scenarios. The same scenarios were also used to assess how the pediatricians foresaw telemedicine in the post-pandemic period. In addition, administrative data from Maccabi on telemedicine use before, during and after the first lockdown were retrieved and analyzed.

RESULTS: One hundred and sixty-nine pediatricians responded to the survey (response rate = 40%). The percentage of respondents who reported daily use of text messages, pictures and videoconferencing increased from 24, 15 and 1% before COVID-19 to 40, 40 and 12% during the lockdown, respectively (p < 0.05). After the pandemic, projected use of text messages and pictures/videoclips was expected to decrease to 27 and 26% of respondents, respectively (p < 0.05), but pictures/videoclips were expected to increase from 15% of respondents before to 26% of respondents after (p < 0.05). The reported high likelihood of treating suspected pneumonia or prescribing antibiotics for suspected otitis media via telemedicine was expected to decrease from 20% of respondents during the COVID-19 lockdown to 6%% of respondents after (p < 0.05), and from 14% of respondents during the lockdown to 3% of respondents after, respectively. (p < 0.05). Maccabi administrative data indicated that during the lockdown, there was an increase in phone visits and a decrease in in-person visits compared to the pre-lockdown levels of use. One month after the end of the first lock-down there was a partial return to baseline levels of in-person visits and a sustained increase in phone visits. Phone visits accounted for 0% of pediatrician visits before the first lockdown, 17% of them during the lockdown, and 19% of them 1 month after the lockdown relaxation.

CONCLUSIONS: The study indicates that use of telemedicine technologies by primary care pediatricians increased substantially during the first COVID-19 lockdown. The study also found that pediatricians expected that use levels will recede after the pandemic. As the pandemic continues and evolves, it will be important to continue to monitor the level of telemedicine use as well as expectations regarding post-pandemic use levels.

PMID:33081834 | PMC:PMC7573530 | DOI:10.1186/s13584-020-00414-0