Physicians' Attitudes Toward Telemedicine Consultations During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Cross-sectional Study

JMIR Med Inform. 2021 Jun 1;9(6):e29251. doi: 10.2196/29251.


Background: To mitigate the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, health care systems worldwide have implemented telemedicine technologies to respond to the growing need for health care services during these unprecedented times. In the United Arab Emirates, video and audio consultations have been implemented to deliver health services during the pandemic.

Objective: This study aimed to evaluate whether differences exist in physicians' attitudes and perceptions of video and audio consultations when delivering telemedicine services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: This survey was conducted on a cohort of 880 physicians from outpatient facilities in Abu Dhabi, which delivered telemedicine services during the COVID-19 pandemic between November and December 2020. In total, 623 physicians responded (response rate=70.8%). The survey included a 5-point Likert scale to measure physician's attitudes and perceptions of video and audio consultations with reference to the quality of the clinical consultation and the professional productivity. Descriptive statistics were used to describe physicians' sociodemographic characteristics (age, sex, designation, clinical specialty, duration of practice, and previous experience with telemedicine) and telemedicine modality (video vs audio consultations). Regression models were used to assess the association between telemedicine modality and physicians' characteristics with the perceived outcomes of the web-based consultation.

Results: Compared to audio consultations, video consultations were significantly associated with physicians' confidence toward managing acute consultations (odds ratio [OR] 1.62, 95% CI 1.2-2.21; P=.002) and an increased ability to provide patient education during the web-based consultation (OR 2.21, 95% CI 1.04-4.33; P=.04). There was no significant difference in physicians' confidence toward managing long-term and follow-up consultations through video or audio consultations (OR 1.35, 95% CI 0.88-2.08; P=.17). Video consultations were less likely to be associated with a reduced overall consultation time (OR 0.69, 95% CI 0.51-0.93; P=.02) and reduced time for patient note-taking compared to face-to-face visits (OR 0.48, 95% CI 0.36-0.65; P<.001). Previous experience with telemedicine was significantly associated with a lower perceived risk of misdiagnosis (OR 0.46, 95% CI 0.3-0.71; P<.001) and an enhanced physician-patient rapport (OR 2.49, 95% CI 1.26-4.9; P=.008).

Conclusions: These results indicate that video consultations should be adopted frequently in the new remote clinical consultations. Previous experience with telemedicine was associated with a 2-fold confidence in treating acute conditions, less than a half of the perceived risk of misdiagnosis, and an increased ability to provide patients with health education and enhance the physician-patient rapport. Additionally, these results show that audio consultations are equivalent to video consultations in providing remote follow-up care to patients with chronic conditions. These findings may be beneficial to policymakers of e-health programs in low- and middle-income countries, where audio consultations may significantly increase access to geographically remote health services.

Keywords: COVID-19; United Arab Emirates; audio consultation; clinical decision-making; clinical training; communication; outpatient department; perception; telemedicine; video consultation.