- 2022;25;387-390Telemedicine Implementation in Pain Medicine: A Survey Evaluation of Pain Medicine Practices in Spring 2020
Brian Brenner, MD, Scott Brancolini, MD, Yashar Eshraghi, MD, Maged Guirguis, MD, Shravani Durbhakula, MD, David Provenzano, MD, Kevin Vorenkamp, MD, Shalini Shah, MD, Michael Darden, PhD, and Lynn Kohan, MD.
BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a novel challenge for healthcare delivery and implementation in the United States (US) in 2020 and beyond. Telemedicine arose as a significant and effective medium for safe and efficacious physician-patient interactions. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine while available, had infrequently been utilized in pain medicine practices due to difficulties with reimbursement, the learning curve associated with new technology usage, and the need for new logistical systems in place to implement telemedicine effectively. Given the unique constraints on the healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ubiquitous utilization of telemedicine among pain medicine physicians increased, giving insight into potential future roles for the technology beyond the pandemic.
OBJECTIVES: To survey and understand the state of implementation of telemedicine into pain medicine practices across practice settings and geographical areas; to identify potential barriers to the implementation of telemedicine in pain medicine practice; and to identify the likelihood of telemedicine continuing beyond the pandemic in pain medicine practice.
STUDY DESIGN: Online questionnaire targeting Pain Medicine physicians in the US. Participants were asked questions related to the use of telemedicine during the first peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
SETTING: Online-based questionnaire distributed to academic and private practice pain medicine physicians nationally in the United States.
METHODS: A 34 web-based questionnaires were distributed by the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine and the Society of Interventional Spine to all active members. Data were analyzed using SAS v9.4
RESULTS: Between December 3, 2020, and February 18, 2021, 164 participants accessed the survey with a response rate of 14.3%. Overall, academic physicians were more likely to implement telemedicine than private practice physicians. Telemedicine was also more frequently utilized for follow-up appointments rather than initial visits.
LIMITATIONS: Although our n = 164, the overall low response rate of 14.3% warrants further investigation into the utilization of telemedicine throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
CONCLUSIONS: Telemedicine as an emerging technology for efficient communication played a key role in mitigating the adverse effects of the COVID -19 pandemic on chronic pain patients. The utilization of telemedicine remarkably increased after the start of the pandemic within 1 to 2 weeks. Overall, private hospital-based centers were significantly less likely to implement telemedicine than academic centers, possibly due to limited access to secure telemedicine platforms and high start-up costs. Telemedicine was used more frequently for follow-up visits than initial visit encounters at most centers. In spite of the unforeseen consequences to the healthcare system and chronic pain practices in the US from COVID-19, telehealth has emerged as a unique model of care for patients with chronic pain. Although it has flaws, telehealth has the ability to increase access to care beyond the end of the pandemic. Further identification of barriers to the use of telemedicine platforms in private practices should be addressed from a policy perspective to facilitate increased care access.
KEY WORDS: Pain medicine, fellowship, telemedicine, practice management, opioids, COVID-19, health policy