83% of Patients Predict Long-Term Telehealth Care Access

More patients are interested in telehealth care access than ever before, likely sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

 By Sara Heath

June 18, 2020 – Most patients are expecting to use telehealth care access even after the COVID0-19 pandemic subsides, according to new data from Doctor.com. This underscores a significant cultural shift around the technology in recent months.

83% of Patients Predict Long-Term Telehealth Care Access

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic mandated stay-at-home orders and increased patient fears they may contract an illness inside a health clinic, patient sentiment for telehealth was more tepid. An August 2019 Harris Poll revealed two-thirds of patients were open to the idea of telehealth, but only 8 percent had actually tried it.

But this latest report from Doctor.com is turning that trend on its head. Half of the 1,800 patients polled said they have used telehealth within the past three months, and 71 percent are willing to use it today if needed. Eighty-three percent of patients said they expect to use telehealth even after the COVID-19 pandemic dies down.

Dig Deeper

Of the half who have not yet used telehealth, that is largely because patients have not perceived a need to use it. Fifty-eight percent said they have not had a healthcare issue that warranted a telehealth visit, while 32 percent had cost concerns and 18 percent were worried they may not be able to work the technology.

Nonetheless, patient sentiment toward telehealth is trending positively. One-third of patients who have seen delayed or canceled care during the pandemic — a rampant trend especially in primary care — said they’d be willing to use telehealth if they could fill that care gap as soon as possible.

Prominently, 48 percent of patients want a telehealth visit for allergies or ear, nose, and throat issues; 45 percent of a preventive primary care visit; and 45 percent for a mental or behavioral health visit. Respondents could select multiple care access categories.

And it’s not even taking an established patient-provider relationship to make patients comfortable with the idea of telehealth. Fifty-five percent or respondents said they are willing to use telehealth with a doctor they do not yet know, although 40 percent said they’d like a referral from a doctor they do know. Unsurprisingly, three-quarters are interested in using telehealth with a doctor with whom they have an established relationship.

There are a few other factors that would sway a patient’s decision to use telehealth. For example, 69 percent of respondents said the promise of easy-to-use technology would positively affect their decision to use telehealth. Fifty-seven percent said communication from a hospital, clinic, or health system would be influential, while 47 percent said the same about online appointment scheduling and immediate appointment availability.

Sixty-eight percent would prefer to use their mobile phones for telehealth visits, and 48 percent said they like using their laptops.

Perhaps most promising is the positive impact telehealth may have on chronic disease management, something that has been the cause of concern for primary care and specialists the past three months. Because patients have not been able to or are otherwise reticent to go into the clinic or hospital, providers have been wary that chronic disease management plans may fall by the wayside.

The survey showed that telehealth can help providers fill in this gap and offer some semblance of care management. Ninety-one percent of patients said telehealth would help them stick to a health visit schedule and manage their prescription medications. Meanwhile, 93 percent said telehealth would help them learn about new medication options that are available to them.

These findings give credence to much of the anecdotal evidence currently floating through the medical industry. Telehealth has been a viable option for maintaining patient access to care during stay-at-home orders and will continue to aid care access as patients consider better-at-home advice.

For that reason, and because of patients receptiveness to telehealth in recent months, many medical leaders believe the technology is here to stay. In the current climate, telehealth can protect both patient and provider from COVID-19 exposure. When and if COVID-19 mitigates, the technology will still be relevant for patients looking for convenient care access.

“I can’t imagine going back,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma told STAT at a virtual event as reported by the Upper Midwest Telehealth Resource Center. “People recognize the value of this, so it seems like it would not be a good thing to force our beneficiaries to go back to in-person visits.”