Pandemic-driven telehealth proves popular at safety net health system

As state and federal authorities decide whether to continue reimbursing for telehealth services that were suddenly adopted last spring in response to the coronavirus pandemic, a new study out of UC San Francisco has found that clinicians in the San Francisco Health Network (SFHN) overwhelmingly support using these services for outpatient primary care and specialty care visits.

The results surprised the research team, which includes a number of clinicians at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center (ZSFG), since they witnessed firsthand the difficulties that many of their colleagues and patients experienced when they had to turn to telehealth overnight. ZSFG is part of the San Francisco Health Network, where the survey was conducted, which also includes clinics run by the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

"That transition was so painful for many people: to find a new way to provide medical care," said Anjana Sharma, MD, MAS, assistant professor of family and community medicine at UCSF and first author of the paper, published in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved. "We were surprised to see that 9 out of 10 clinicians expressed comfort with providing care by phone and video."

She said the team was also surprised at the concerns that providers expressed over whether they could accurately diagnose patients remotely. Almost 60 percent of those surveyed questioned the diagnostic safety of providing health care services over the telephone, and 35 percent had those concerns about diagnosing on video.

And there were other problems. Some 44 percent of