Many Massachusetts physician groups are struggling to leverage telehealth as they continue to deal with lagging patient volumes, according to new data.
Small physician groups across the country had not seen volumes return to pre-pandemic levels as of early October, in part because they have not been able to incorporate telehealth into their practice, which was mirrored in Massachusetts.
Overall, there were more struggling physician practices in Massachusetts than successful ones as of September and October, according to data released Wednesday by the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission. Although some typically larger providers could use telehealth to increase access, many found it difficult to use or clinically inadequate, and patient volumes declined, in part due to technological barriers. Many clinicians were burned out as they weighed the future of their business.
"I have been considering early retirement and dramatic consolidation," one independent specialist practice wrote in HPC's fall survey. About a third of independent practices have shifted to a concierge model and 11% have consolidated with other practices. Many of the clinical and non-clinical staff who were furloughed at behavioral health practices have not been rehired.
"We put a tremendous amount of chronic disease management and patient contact on hold," a primary care provider wrote.
Some of the most significant discharge declines—ranging from 100% to 41% in April—across Massachusetts hospitals involved osteoarthritis, cardiac dysrhythmias, heart failure and acute myocardial infarctions, according to Massachusetts Center for Health Information and Analysis data. While some discharge volumes like diabetes mellitus and alcohol-related disorders rebounded to pre-pandemic levels in June, many were still off by at least a 20%.