The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) and WEGO Health released a joint study of active healthcare users regarding their experience with and interest in telehealth as a replacement or addition to in-office care. It shows strong interest, with convenience as a key motivating factor. Consumers do, it seems, suffer from some confusion about the availability of and coverage for telemedicine.
About the Survey Creators
The American Telemedicine Association, headquartered in Washington, DC, was established in 1993 to promote the use of state-of-the-art remote medical technologies. Its membership works to ensure that telemedicine is integrated into the healthcare delivery system to improve quality, equity, and affordability of healthcare. The ATA publishes the State Policy Resource Center, which tracks telehealth and telemedicine policies across the US.
WEGO Health is an online portal for patient influencers, and community leaders who are enthusiastic about helping people lead healthier lives. In addition, WEGO Health’s patient influencer network is a trusted community liaison to health companies and organizations.
The survey results were released during a panel discussion with WEGO Health on September 29, 2016 at the ATA’s Fall Forum event in New Orleans. A total of 429 respondents were questioned about their use of telemedicine to interact with healthcare providers.
The survey reinforced that telehealth is not yet ubiquitous, with only 22% of respondents reporting having used it in the last year. However, most reported that they thought telehealth would be more convenient even though their provider does not currently offer it. This group cited ease of scheduling, less travel, and improved access to providers for immobile patients as reasons that they might consider a video visit in lieu of an in-office one.
“Clearly consumers are not only becoming aware of telemedicine but starting to demand access to it,” said Jonathan D. Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association. “It is becoming a part of the standard of care that should be made available throughout the country.”
Patients Who Used Telemedicine
Patients were asked about the setting in which the remote visit occurred. The vast majority said home (75%), followed by the healthcare provider’s office (24%), the hospital (18%), a clinic (16%), work (10%), a retail walk in clinic (9%), and school (1%).
This result highlights the shift from the hub-and-spoke style telehealth approach with designated originating sites favored by Medicare to a truly mobile paradigm in which patients can conduct the encounter from wherever works best for them.
One interesting finding was that a video visit was requested as often by the patient as it was suggested by the provider. This balance points to the fact that video visits have benefits for both patients and providers. Patients get a much more convenient and cost effective experience, while providers have the opportunity to grow their practice and enjoy a better work/life balance.
Of the respondents who have used telemedicine in the last year, the most common uses were:
- Using a camera to take a picture of a wound/skin condition and electronically send the image to a healthcare provider for consultation (56%)
- Diagnosis or ongoing treatment of a health condition (50%)
- Using video conference or a digital monitor to track blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, weight, temperature, oxygen saturation, or medication (21%)
- Consulting with a physician via video before and/or after surgery (16%)
This data tracks with our experience that telehealth is particularly popular in primary care, dermatology, and surgery. Other specialties that take advantage of the approach include OB/GYN, pediatrics, neurology, oncology, and cardiology.
Patients were also asked about how frequently they use video visits. Most respondents, 85% reported using remote care 1-4 times in the last year. Eleven percent used the approach 5-9 times, with just 5% going the video route 10 or more times. This speaks to the fact that for many patients, telemedicine is a supplement to, rather than a replacement for in-office care. It is ideal for medication management, reviewing test results, and follow-up visits.
When asked why they opted for a remote encounter, respondents chose one or more among six reasons:
- Healthcare provider preference/history of care (37%)
- No available appointments/inability to get to healthcare provider’s office due to schedule conflicts or travel time involved (39%)
- Transportation issues/distance (35%)
- Issues related to my health condition (39%)
- Needed a prescription or refill (13%)
- Other (10%)
As you can see, these results add up to well over 100%, meaning that respondents had multiple reasons for going the video route.
Patients Who Did Not Use Telemedicine
Survey participants who have not used telemedicine were asked to specify the reason. They were able to select up to three options.
- Don’t know what telemedicine is (4%)
- It is too expensive or not covered by my health insurance (9%)
- Don’t know how to find a provider that offers video visits (23%)
- My provider does not offer telehealth (73%)
- Provider is in another state (1%)
- Prefer an in-office visit (22%)
- Privacy concerns (8%)
- Other (10%)
We were struck by a few things in this result. Respondents were less concerned about privacy and security issues than one might have expected. The fact that only 22% indicated that they simply prefer an in-office appointment is also good news for healthcare providers considering launching a telemedicine program. The biggest reason, by far that patients haven’t opted for telehealth is that their provider doesn’t offer it. This suggests an enormous opportunity for providers to capitalize on pent-up demand for care via video.
The survey did reflect the belief that insurance may not cover telemedicine. We believe that this is due, at least in part, to a lack of education about state telehealth parity laws, which require private payers to cover certain types of telemedicine, and more progressive payment policies by insurance companies.
As the survey makes clear, we are at the tipping point for telemedicine. Patients are ready and willing to embrace the approach if their providers are equipped to offer it.