By Kat Jercich
Three-quarters of patients who obtained healthcare virtually during the pandemic said they want it to be a standard part of care in the future. The result lends weight to the ongoing conversation around telehealth.
A survey of 1,000 patients found that more than 75% said they were very or completely satisfied with the virtual care they'd received, and 96% said it was somewhat, very or extremely easy to arrange a visit.
However, a majority also said they left the visit without knowing what the next steps were – suggesting that providers still have a role to play in follow-up care.
"There is a big opportunity to improve care coordination and drive patient retention by building processes that better close the loop with patients and, in turn, not only promote follow-through, but also keep them coming back in the future," wrote authors of the report accompanying the survey results.
WHY IT MATTERS
As states around the country flirt with reopening, in-person visits may seem like a more viable option for some. This, in turn, could give patients' feelings about virtual care higher potential leverage: If they don't have to rely on telehealth, but want to, how might that figure into conversations among policymakers about future regulatory steps?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the numbers around telehealth visit increases, most patients had not used virtual care before 2020. Nearly three-quarters used telehealth because they'd had an original appointment postponed or cancelled, and 73% of respondents had a preexisting appointment cancelled or postponed, either of their own accord or because of provider action.
About 40% of respondents said they'd sought care for wellness check-ins; only 15% said they'd pursued virtual services for symptoms related to COVID-19.
"Patients used a variety of technology platforms to access virtual care visits; healthcare specific applications like Amwell and Teladoc accounted for 34% of all visits, but traditionally non-healthcare platforms like Zoom and FaceTime together represented 40%," wrote the report authors, noting that the platform did not appear to affect patient satisfaction.
Overall, 86% of patients said they felt more satisfied because they could access virtual care, and half said they'd switch providers to have virtual care visits on a regular basis. The majority said they'd recommend it to a friend or colleague.
Where virtual care fell short, the survey suggested, was in retention: Only 35% of patients said their primary care provider followed up with them following the visit, and 45% said they understood how they could access telehealth in the future. Most – especially those under the age of 52 – wanted to book online in the future.
"While much of the initial focus was on restoring access for patients with existing appointments, healthcare organizations also have an opportunity to tap into virtual care as a differentiator with new patients moving forward," observed report authors.
THE LARGER TREND
The future of telehealth remains an open question, with hundreds of stakeholders calling on Congress to advance permanent reform.
"Swift congressional action will provide a clear signal to patients, who are concerned about the future of their telehealth benefits, as well as providers and health systems, which are hesitant to make investments in critical healthcare infrastructure without certainty from policymakers," said the industry groups in an open letter earlier this month.
In turn, lawmakers have asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to clarify its plan for making any permanent changes to regulations around telehealth.
"Patients are anxious about when private payers will change rates for telehealth services and if they will decide to rescind telehealth coverage altogether," wrote a bipartisan group of 38 senators in early July.
ON THE RECORD
"Continued virtual care utilization and adoption can provide a win-win for healthcare organizations and patients in the months ahead, particularly as uncertainty around the pandemic persists and both patients and providers contend with safety concerns around traditional in-person visits," wrote the report authors.
"Healthcare organizations can utilize virtual care to expand patient access to care, drive satisfaction for their various stakeholders, and evolve their care offerings in potentially permanent ways," they continued.
Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.