What if a Physician Isn’t Good at Telehealth?

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a user group conference for a large Health IT company. One of the most interesting conversations that I overheard was on the topic of physicians who were not good at telehealth.

Here is a synopsis of the story one Chief Medical Officer told his peer from another organization:

“We have several doctors on staff, some older, some younger, who are just terrible at using the telehealth platform. Some just can’t get the hang of the technology. They end calls with patients by accident and cannot reconnect. They mute themselves and are not able to unmute. There are also a few doctors who just don’t have the personality for telehealth. Some are very abrupt with patients. Others are clearly looking at another window – maybe they are looking something up to help the patient, but it’s hard to tell.”

This CMO went on to say that both types of doctors are so frustrated with the whole telehealth experience that some are considering early retirement and others are thinking about becoming hospitalists. This is coming at a time when physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are in short supply.

That comment would have been interesting enough, but then this particular CMO said something that stunned me: “The doctors who have not adapted well to telehealth feel ostracized by the other doctors who have taken to telehealth.”

I’m sure it is not intentional, but I can see this happening in healthcare organizations. I know how I get when I have to explain how to use a technology over and over again to colleague. It’s not hard to see how tech-savvy doctors might be a little annoyed with their colleagues inability to use telehealth effectively.

Expecting too much?

But are we expecting too much? Does it make any sense to force someone to use something who is clearly not skilled at it? To borrow a sports analogy…why would you keep sending a batter to the plate who cannot hit left-handed pitching against a left-handed pitcher?

Would it not make more sense to shift the patient mix of these doctors so that they have patients who prefer in-person visits over telehealth ones?

Pre-pandemic, this solution might have sounded like pandering to the whims of doctors who were stuck-in-the-mud, but now that we are in a situation where we don’t have enough healthcare professionals, should we not take a serious look at this and find ways so that everyone can be happy?

Matching Patients to Physicians

There are many tools out there that try to match patients with physicians using multiple points of compatibility (sounds like dating apps right?). These platforms look at preferred language, preferred gender, location, hours of operation, and other such characteristics to make a match. It’s not hard to imagine that telehealth vs in-person visits could also be a matching characteristic.

The question, however, is whether we see telehealth like using a smartphone (as in everyone show know how to do it) or more like using Adobe Photoshop (where only certain people are really adept at it).

On the next HCLDR Tweetchat happening on Tuesday February 22nd at 8:30pm ET (for your local time click here), we’ll be discussing the following questions:

  • T1 As a patient, what makes a good telehealth visit and what characteristics do you want to see/hear from the healthcare professional you are virtually visiting with?
  • T2 Are we expecting too much from doctors? Should every doctor be expected to do telehealth visits?
  • T3 Given the growing scarcity of healthcare professionals, should we be doing more to accommodate their needs and matching them to technology & patients where they can do well?
  • T4 What ideas do you have to prevent healthcare staff from feeling ostracized for not being able to use a technology well?

PS: Tuesday Feb 22nd is the 2nd day of the week, in the 2nd month of the year, in the year 2022. 😊


Zenooz, Ashwini. “Telehealth Is Working for Patients. But What About Doctors?”, HBR, 13 November 2020, https://hbr.org/2020/11/telehealth-is-working-for-patients-but-what-about-doctors, accessed 21 February 2022

Ross, Casey. “Telehealth grew wildly popular amid Covid-19. Now visits are plunging, forcing providers to recalibrate”, Stat News, 1 September 2020, https://www.statnews.com/2020/09/01/telehealth-visits-decline-covid19-hospitals/, accessed 21 February 2022

Mehrota, Ateev, et al. “This is supposed to be telemedicine’s time to shine. Why are doctors abandoning it?”, Stat News, 25 June 2020, https://www.statnews.com/2020/06/25/telemedicine-time-to-shine-doctors-abandoning-it/, accessed 21 February 2022

Noguchi, Yuki. “Patients say telehealth is OK, but most prefer to see their doctor in person”, NPR, 18 October 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/10/18/1044358309/patients-say-telehealth-ok-but-doctor-visits-in-person-better, accessed 21 February 2022

“Telemedicine: The Good, the Bad, the Pleasantly Surprising”, AAFP, 13 April 2020, https://www.aafp.org/news/blogs/freshperspectives/entry/20200414fp-covidtelemedicine.html, accessed 21 February 2022

Maier, Scott. “COVID-19 Pandemic Drives Telehealth Boom, But Older Adults Can’t Connect”, USCF, August 2020, https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2020/08/418201/covid-19-pandemic-drives-telehealth-boom-older-adults-cant-connect, accessed 21 February 2022

Image Credit

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

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