Have you seen your doctor remotely this year? Turns out that endocrinology is the number one specialty using telemedicine in 2020. We talk to Dr. Peter Alperin from Doximity about their recent study that says about 20% of all medical visits will be conducted via telemedicine this year. We also talk about what this means going forward, how to get the most of a visit when you can't be in person and why the heck doctors' offices still use fax machines!
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Stacey Simms 0:00
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This is Diabetes Connections with Stacey Simms.
Stacey Simms 0:28
Hi, and welcome to another episode of our show. As this episode goes live, it is Election Day in the United States and we are not going to focus on that here. I am guessing many of you have actually found this episode in the days following its initial release. But whenever you are joining us I think this is a really interesting topic that you know many of us experienced for the first time this year. And that's telehealth.
If you are new to the show. I'm really glad you found us. I'm your host, Stacey Simms, and we aim to educate and inspire about type 1 diabetes. My son Benny was diagnosed when he was a toddler way back in 2006. He is now a sophomore in high school and we had one telehealth visit earlier this year. That was back in March, when everything started, we were able to go into the doctor's office for his summer and fall endocrinology appointments. I talked more about the experience, you know how it went some of the pitfalls that we ran into for that first telehealth appointment. And I do that in the interview.
Just a heads up this will be a shorter than usual episode is just the interview, we will have a regular episode with our segments with Tell me something good and all of that later this week.
For this episode, I am talking to the folks from Doximity. This is a professional medical network, sort of like LinkedIn for doctors. They had a study recently that said endocrinology is the specialty that uses telemedicine the most number one at everybody. And there are some interesting reasons why, of course remote or telehealth or whatever want to call it was huge earlier this year, it did peak around April or May. But there are some predictions that about 20% of all medical visits will still be conducted via telemedicine by the close of this year by the end of 2020. And that would represent about $29 billion worth of medical services. It is certainly worth watching.
So why endocrinology? What does this mean going forward? And why do doctors offices still use fax machines? Those are some of the questions I asked Dr. Pete Alperin, who joined us from Doximity. Dr. Alperin, thank you so much for joining me. I appreciate you spending some time with us today.
Dr. Peter Alperin
Thanks. Thank you so much for having me looking forward to it.
So a lot to unpack here with this study and why endocrinology but let me just back up first and ask you what is Doximity? What do you all do?
Dr. Peter Alperin 2:51
So Doximity is the largest online network of health professionals in the United States. And I think a great way to think about us is we're like a LinkedIn for healthcare professionals. We started off primarily with physicians, but we've expanded to include nurse practitioners, PhDs and a variety of other you know, healthcare professionals that range the gamut from, you know, optometrists, etc, to physical therapists and pharmacists and the like. We have over 70% of United States physicians have joined our network, and we have over, you know, 1.2 million members overall. And when I say it's like LinkedIn, you can think of it as LinkedIn, but tailored towards the healthcare professional. So we have a lot of features that are very specific to the needs of the people who work in the medical field. So we have HIPAA compliant communication, including faxing, we have our Doximity, dialer, video and audio products, which allow physicians to communicate easily securely and reliably with their patients. And then doctors can connect with each other much like you would on other social sites, and earn free continuing medical education. And they keep up on the latest Medical News. And we have a news feed, which is one of the biggest features on our site that allows the health care professionals to keep up on the latest and greatest in their particular fields, as well as just general information about the health care profession.
Stacey Simms 4:09
So one of the things that you've done with Doximity this year is well, I assume you do this every year is a state report, right? The 2020 state report and this is the state of telemedicine. I'm just curious, do you do that every year,
Dr. Peter Alperin 4:22
which is the second year that we've done this, and we've done studies in a variety of other areas. So we've done workforce studies, but we have a unique position in the market, being able to you know, call on the information and the opinions of like I mentioned over 70% of the US physician base and as a result, it gives us a really nice vantage point so that we can understand and really learn about these issues, particularly workforce issues.
Stacey Simms 4:48
So let's talk about the 2020 state of telemedicine report. And it's interesting because I have a great audience. I have a very smart audience but I also have an audience that is uniquely positioned to experience probably just as much if not more telehealth than anybody else in the country this year, so I'm really curious to hear these results because endocrinology was the number one specialty that utilizes telemedicine the most in that study, tell me a little bit more about that by number by percentage.
Dr. Peter Alperin 5:16
So it's by percentage, it probably isn't, it wouldn't be by numbers, mainly because there just aren't enough endocrinologist to make that a possibility. But the situation is that we surveyed, you know, 2000 of our physicians on our user base, and ask them a variety of different questions. And one of the things as you noted that that became clear was that endocrinology was one of the top professions it was the top profession, in terms of utilizing telehealth and it's that isn't surprising, mainly because endocrinologist take care of patients with diabetes, as well as other obviously, endocrine disorders, but it's a very chronic disease, heavy specialty and chronic disease is uniquely amenable to the telehealth platform, because patients with chronic disease need to be seen by their health care professionals on a longitudinal basis of you know, for many years forever. And it is something where you can have many light touches, so that you can have a dietitian who might touch the patient, the physician, you know, diabetes, education, and, you know, runs the gamut. And as a result, because endocrinologist obviously specialize and have more diabetes patients than the average doctor, it stands to reason that they would be the specialty that has been utilizing this the most. We've also noticed in our study, and you may have noticed this that chronic care visits were completed at a higher percentage on telehealth and other regular type visits, more acute care.
Stacey Simms 6:38
I'm curious, in the study, do you talk about the quality of these meetings because we've had telehealth this year, my son sees an endocrinologist, every quarter, we sometimes stretch it out, but we see every quarter. And we did one visit during this time that was remote, and it went fine. I had a little bit of you know, I have a we had a few issues, just getting some reports, it was fine. Did you talk about quality at all.
Dr. Peter Alperin 7:02
So the study didn't really dive into that I can tell you from personal experience, that you do need to learn how to do a telehealth visit, you need to prep your patients properly. And so it is very, very beneficial if you send patients at least the ones who have not had a visit before on using a telehealth platform to you know the different tips and tricks to be able to make that visit as ideal as possible. And then the physician themselves needs training to make sure that they understand how to interact, look at the camera, the variety of different things. So we didn't go into that in this study. But it is something that I know is important for all physicians and frankly, patients to have to kind of acclimate themselves to that communication platform.
Stacey Simms 7:46
Yeah, our biggest problem was the actual reports. My son uses an insulin pump, he uses a continuous glucose monitor, and they have separate reports that are you're able to get online. But you know, we had sent it or the office had called us. And here's the clarity report, login. Here's the T slim report, login. And then the doctor was online. He's like, nobody gave me anything. So I had to give him like my login while we were talking. It was really fun. We've known him for 14 years. So it was no big deal. But it was funny to have to. I think we were also his first visit that way. I'm sure it got better. But it was funny. You know, especially with diabetes, especially with type one, there can be so many technical things, if you're lucky enough to have access to the technology. Okay. Anyway, let's get back to the report. I know it's a little early to extrapolate, you know, from a report like this, but what do you think I mean, in on your network? Are physicians excited about telemedicine? Do they like it? Do they think it's going to continue?
Dr. Peter Alperin 8:38
So they do think it's going to continue? And I think they're excited as well. I think there was a little bit of trepidation in the beginning, because it was really thrust upon people. And I think there remains some unanswered questions. So let us sort of let me go into each of those. There's no question that telehealth is going to stay. I mean, we're the expectation is that there'll be $29 billion worth of telemedicine telemedicine visits by the end of 2020, and over 100 billion by the end of 2023. So this is something that is very, is absolutely not going to go away. And it's not going to go away because patients like it. And frankly, physicians are going to like it as well. The reasons that patients like it are is that it's it's quite convenient. And particularly for patients with chronic illness, or patients who have difficulty getting to the doctor's office, it can really be a lifeline. It's much easier to have additional visits over a telehealth platform and then have maybe a quarterly visit where the patient actually comes in to see you than it is to have that patient come to your office, you know, every few weeks, if I'm talking about patients who have you know, particularly brittle diabetes or you know, need to be seen on a more frequent basis for whatever particular reason. I think that if you look at the study, you know that it bears that out with the increase in the in the chronic care visits that you saw, and also just the satisfaction in general. Now, like I mentioned, there are a few kinks that need to continue to be worked out right now. As we noted in the study, the payments for these visits is not 100% certain going forward, although all indicators are that this is going to be made permanent. But you know, if I'm being accurate right now, CMS, for instance, is operating on waivers that allow you to build for the visit in the way that you would want to be able to all as I mentioned, all indicators are that's going to be made permanent. That's probably the biggest sort of thing that remains to be worked out. But private payers seem to be following suit as well.
Stacey Simms 10:27
Now, you're an internist. You're not an endocrinologist, but I know you've seen patients, people with diabetes. I'm curious what you think about the missing element of telehealth, especially as it pertains to chronic condition like this. And that's the person that's the in person relationship. And as a parent of a child with type one, as a wife of a husband with type two, the personal relationship that they have with their separate physicians is so important to their care. And well, I think telehealth is great, I would hate to see it take over. Right I really my my son, I were talking about this, and he felt the visit was worthless. It was not we actually made it he's 15. He thinks a lot of things are worthless. But we made basal rate changes, we checked in on certain things. But then when we were able to go back to the office over the summer, he thought it was a much better visit. I don't know from where I stood there was wasn't as dramatic a difference as he indicated. But I think he had a lot to say about it. I'm curious, from your perspective, as the physician, what you think about that,
Dr. Peter Alperin 11:27
you know, I think that there's never going to be a substitute for an in person visit full stop. But that said, I think it's like all pieces of technology, the key is finding the right place to use it. Because it's not about the technology. It's about the physician patient conversation and the care that you're delivering. And so the best technology is invisible, right, it disappears. And so that you really it's about that connection that you have. I think that like we talked about in your previous question, there does need to be some acclamation on the part of the patient and the physician in terms of getting used to this. But I still strongly believe that the overwhelming I guess you would call it, the fundamentals of it are really just on the side of telemedicine, it's efficient, you have the ability to touch more patients. Now, one thing that I've thought about is that a telemedicine visit is always easier with a patient that you already know. Yeah. So that's also another reason why I think that in the realm of chronic care which diabetes is squarely in the middle of, you're going to need to have that initial visit with the patient in person. But over time, having a phone call or a video visit is actually fine. Because you know, the patient and the patient knows you, it is a little trickier for an acute care visit, it's just a little bit the physical exam is a little bit more difficult. Obviously, in patients with chronic disease, you don't need to do a full physical exam with every single visit it really, you know, it obviously depends on why they're there and what their particular symptoms are. So I do agree that the inpatient visit will never go away, and, frankly, is probably a more satisfying visit, because I think humans are social creatures, and they really like that connection. But that doesn't mean that the telemedicine is somehow you know, inferior, or it doesn't mean that at all. And it also doesn't mean that that it's not going to stay, it's just going to have to be used in the right circumstance.
Stacey Simms 13:11
I hope they keep it in our local office, I think we could see switching our for yearly visits to to in person and to via computer, it was just you know, it's also a 45 minute drive. Yeah, it's a nice step to heart and you have,
Dr. Peter Alperin 13:25
obviously in a time of a pandemic, you are running the risk of infection of other people. And obviously patients with diabetes, many of whom are older, the run the risk of getting that infection are at higher risk of covid. And the whole nine yards. And the other thing is, is that you know, even when the pandemic is ending, let's fast forward, you know, a couple years, I still think it's going to be very beneficial for patients, particularly patients who don't have, you know, the means to come to the office that easily. So it's important to consider that as well.
Stacey Simms 13:54
I'm curious to one of the things that our doctor talked about was trying and this was way at the beginning, he was trying to figure out how to help patients do the kind of physical exam that he does in the office. In other words, looking at fingertips to make sure that you know, they're not poking the same finger or they're, you know, the fingers are doing okay for blood sugar checks, checking the sites, where a pump inset would go and teaching patients how to kind of do a self check, which a lot of people have never thought to do with diabetes. I haven't checked in with him because as I said, we went back in person and I know they're doing in person visits now. But I'm curious if things like that have come up maybe even in other practices in some of the chats and conversations that you've seen.
Dr. Peter Alperin 14:36
Yeah, I mean, both personal experience and then, you know, being at duck somebody I have a unique vantage point on the conversations that occur on our newsfeed where you'll see the you know, the the chatter back and forth about a particular article. The answer is there are great many things that you can do to help with the physical exam and this gets back to again, you know, having the patient be properly prepped, if you will, for that visit. So that they're in a comfortable seat so that there's good lighting, that they have loose fitting clothing, that they're aware of the things that you might do so that they have also, you know, the proper undergarments. So depending upon what the physical exam might be, but there are certain things you can't do like it's very difficult to palpate and do an abdominal exam right over the phone. And it's just it's a tricky part of the any, any physician will tell you, the abdominal exam has always been one of the trickier parts of any exam. It's also hard to listen to lungs, if you will, over the phone. But there are some things you can do. For instance, if a patient's complaining of abdominal pain you and they and their mobile, you can ask them to sort of maybe jump up and down and see whether or not that hurts, because really what you're looking for is a sudden jar, far from the exam that all of us learned in medical school, and probably far from the same level of sensitivity and the ability to diagnose things, but it certainly can help. But that's where the importance of triage comes in. And that's why having a front office that can understand when a patient needs to come into the office versus not come into the office is important.
And look, I've converted telehealth exams to in person ones where I've said at the end of the conversation, you know, this was great, but I think I still need to learn more, why don't you call the office and find out if there's a time you can come in in the next week, then that kind of thing. You know, it is being taken up by physicians of all ages. And I think that was a really interesting finding that, you know, typically technology is always adopted more more quickly, among younger people just across the board. Here's a case where that's not true, where it's physicians in their 40s and 50s, who are actually taking to telemedicine more quickly than physicians in their 30s, then one of the reasons that we think that that's true, is that physicians in the 40s and 50s are the busy physicians are the ones who see the, I hesitate to say in this in the those salad years of their life where they're raising families, and they have, you know, mortgage payments and life. And so they're working more, I also perhaps think that their practices are bigger, they're more comfortable with their patient base. And it takes a certain level of comfort, like we talked about with your patient panel, and the folks that you're caring for to have a telemedicine visit be just the most optimal thing that can be again, not that you can't do it when you're a younger physician. But when you're just starting out, you don't know quite as much. If you ask any physician, they'll tell you that the amount of learning that they did in their first three years after their residency training is just absolutely the most because that's when you can't turn to anybody else and say, hey, what should what would you do about this? It's your The buck stops with you. So you learn a tremendous amount when that happens.
Stacey Simms 17:29
You heard me laugh a little bit, because when you said older physicians, I was expecting you to say physicians in their 60s, perhaps even into their 70s I did not expect you to say physician 40s and 50s. I know, we're all well, you know,
Dr. Peter Alperin 17:44
it's a good point, you know, half of all US physicians are you know, over 50. And, you know, there's a probably a big wave coming of physicians or, you know, start to cut back.
Stacey Simms 17:56
Well, someone as someone who is pushing toward 50 very rapidly. I'm not happy to hear the older term being used.
Dr. Peter Alperin 18:02
I'm over 50. So it
Stacey Simms 18:05
is what it is. Hey, before I let you go, one of the very first things you said I made a note to come back to you were talking about Doximity and your type of the things that everybody can do. And then and you mentioned fax machines.
Unknown Speaker 18:18
Stacey Simms 18:19
It says nothing to do with anything we've talked about. But I have to ask you, why are American doctors in our health care system still using fax machines? When nobody has been at home? nobody uses the technology anymore.
Dr. Peter Alperin 18:32
I mean, why? It's a fantastic question. And it has its roots. It's really it comes down to two things, but it has its roots in the HIPAA law. So most people on I imagine in your audience are familiar with HIPAA. A lot. Most people are familiar with it. But so that's the primary piece of federal legislation that governs patient privacy, it also governs communication. And when HIPAA was written in the late 90s, or mid to late 90s, the fax machine was ubiquitous. I mean, that was 25 years ago, but the fax machine was grandfathered. And therefore if I send a fax to another physician, or anybody that the communications and the security around that is just handled differently, legally, and there's more protections for it. So that's the first thing. So that's why faxes never went away. And then at the same time as electronic health records came about, and, you know, email became the primary sort of medium of communication that was not covered. And therefore there's all sorts of security protocols that need to happen. You need to use secure email and there's patient information. And because of those security issues, it's an a patchwork just to quilt of rules and regulations. physicians have just stuck with the fax machine because it's in every physician's office, and now it's on every physician's phone. It was the very first feature we created because it's the thing that positions us. I mean, I fax something this weekend, the sending orders to a nursing home for a patient who needed some medication changes and so from your phone from my phone And so that's what we offer on doximity is that ability to fax, receive, send sign and send it. So I never touch a piece of paper per se. But it all happens over a fax protocol. And that's actually what a lot of physicians do. So it's not always when you hear fax machine, it's still a ton of paper. But a lot of physicians have moved to E fax. So you see that as well. And I
Stacey Simms 20:19
guess as patients, we can do that, too. I had an effects account for a while, but I only used it for doctors. Exactly. I
Dr. Peter Alperin 20:25
know. It's a very interesting thing. And there you go.
Stacey Simms 20:30
I know you weren't expecting to talk about that. But it is
Dr. Peter Alperin 20:33
a great question. You know, we still have a huge number of our users who who use our fax machine. And it's the kind of thing that even if you're not a heavy fax user, you still need to have one because you need to be able to receive information from other physicians.
Stacey Simms 20:44
Well, Dr. Alperin, thank you so much for joining me, this was really interesting. And I hope you can come back maybe and let us know other things that you find in Doximity that are of interest to people with diabetes. Thank you so much.
Dr. Peter Alperin 20:54
Thank you so much for having us. It's an important study. It's an important time in medicine, and we appreciate you helping us get the message out.
You're listening to Diabetes Connections with Stacey Simms.
Stacey Simms 21:12
You can read that study from Doximity and some other information. I will link it all up on the episode homepage as usual at Diabetes connections.com. There's always a transcript for every episode in 2020. And we're starting to go back and fill those in for previous years as well. I'm asking in the Facebook group if you went to a telehealth or remote visit this year, and if so, would you do it again? I definitely would as you heard me say, you know Benny wasn't crazy about it. That's because he likes he's driving now he likes to drive down to the office he likes to see and be seen and he has a great relationship with our endo but I really think if we can get away with it we have to see the four times a year although I stretch it out probably like most of you so it's really three times a year just you know, you know you can work that calendar, but I think we could probably get away with one or two remotely and with Dexcom I don't need an A1C from him all the time. You can see the estimate, but we'll see how it goes. love to know what you think.
Thank you to my editor John Bukenas from audio editing solutions. Thank you for listening. We will be back in just a couple of days with a regular length episode with all the segments. I am doing a bit of a state of state with JDRF with Aaron Kowalski, who is the CEO of JDRF wanted to get his take on this really unusual year, what research is going to be stopped or or held up or even everything's going to progress but nothing is as normal with JDRF or anything else. And it was really interesting to talk to him and also let him respond to some of the criticism from the community that JDRF has been hearing recently. That will follow in just a couple of days, likely Thursday of this week. Until then, I'm Stacey Simms. Be kind to yourself.
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