News Feature | June 26, 2014

Can Telemedicine Solve Physician Shortage?

Katie Wike

By Katie Wike, contributing writer


Physician shortages are a real problem, but one report says telemedicine could help fill the gaps - especially for late-night care.

The American Medical Association says physician shortages can be reversed through proper education and increased amounts of residency slots nationwide. AMA Board Member Stephen Permut, M.D., said, “As more patients continue to receive healthcare coverage, it is essential that the next generation of physicians is sufficiently trained. Increasing funding for graduate medical education will help us accomplish that.”

A recent study offers a different solution, on which may help take pressure of physicians sooner than educational policies. Telemedicine is the answer, according to the authors of New Hospital Telemedicine Services: Potential Market for a Nighttime Telehospitalist Service.

“A critical shortage in the supply of physicians in the United States has necessitated innovative approaches to physician service delivery. Telemedicine is a viable service delivery model for a variety of physician and health services,” explain authors.

“Shortages in critical care and neurology specialists have led to the use of tele-intensive care unit and telestroke services in hospital settings. These hospital-based services have gained acceptance and recommendation. Hospitalist staffing shortages may provide an opportunity to apply similar telemedicine models to hospitalist medicine.”

Because nighttime care often goes hand in hand with reduced staffing, the authors of the study focused their research on aiding hospitalists with skeleton crews for night shift. A pilot of the service showed it took only one minute longer for admissions to be completed via telemedicine. And EHR Intelligence reports that the pilot also found 100 percent documentation compliance and patient satisfaction within the 90th percentile.

“Hospitals, health systems, and physician service providers may find a nighttime telehospitalist service to be a viable solution to bring scarce hospitalist physician resources to the inpatient point of care,” concluded researchers.