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Physicians’ Perceptions of Telemedicine Use During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Cross-sectional Study

Background
The term “telemedicine” refers to the use of communication technology to deliver health care remotely. The COVID-19 pandemic had substantial impacts on health care delivery from 2020 onward, and it was necessary to adapt high-quality care in a manner that limited the potential for viral exposure of both patients and health care workers. Physicians employed video, phone, and electronic written (e-consultation) visits, all of which provided quality of care comparable to that of face-to-face visits while reducing barriers of adopting telemedicine.


Objective
This study sought to assess physicians’ perspectives and attitudes regarding the use of telemedicine in Riyadh hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. The main objects of assessment were as follows: (1) physicians’ experience using telemedicine, (2) physicians’ willingness to use telemedicine in the future, (3) physicians’ perceptions of patient experiences, and (4) the influence of telemedicine on burnout.


Methods
This study employed SurveyMonkey to develop and distribute an anonymous 28-question cross-sectional survey among physicians across all specialty disciplines in Riyadh hospitals. A chi-square test was used to determine the level of association between variables, with significance set to P.05.


Results
The survey was distributed among 500 physicians who experienced telemedicine between October 2021 and December 2021. A total of 362 doctors were included, of whom 28.7% (n=104) were consultants, 30.4% (n=110) were specialists, and 40.9% (n=148) were residents. Male doctors formed the majority 56.1% (n=203), and female doctors accounted for 43.9% (n=159). Overall, 34% (n=228) agreed or somewhat agreed that the “quality of care during telemedicine is comparable with that of face-to-face visits.” Approximately 70% (n=254) believed that telemedicine consultation is cost-effective. Regarding burnout, 4.1% (n=15), 7.5% (n=27), and 27.3% (n=99) of the doctors reported feeling burnout every day, a few times a week, and a few times per month, respectively.


Conclusions
The physicians had generally favorable attitudes toward telemedicine, believing that its quality of health care delivery is comparable to that of in-person care. However, further research is necessary to determine how physicians’ attitudes toward telemedicine have changed since the pandemic and how this virtual technology can be used to improve physicians’ professional and personal well-being.
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