From bonus feature to clinic must-have, telehealth's evolution in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic has forced patients, providers, and payers to rapidly adjust to and navigate a new era of care delivery. And even though as practices have largely resumed in-person care, it's clear that though telehealth won't be the only way to access care in the future, it is here to stay—and will be a far more commonplace and lasting complement to long-term care delivery.
With this change comes the imperative to understand health care consumers' attitudes and preferences for virtual care—how sentiments have shifted in recent years, and what can be expected moving forward.
Curious? We were, too. To shed light on exactly how Covid-19 has impacted consumer telehealth use and preferences, we surveyed more than 7,000 consumers. We also benchmarked responses against our 2017 survey data to gauge what—and by how much—attitudes have shifted.
Here's what we found: new cohorts of telehealth users, low wait time tolerance, increased appetite for virtual care across clinical scenarios, and a significant skew towards provider familiarity.
Explore these four key findings from our data below, and learn what it could mean for your telehealth strategy during Covid-19 and beyond.
1. Nearly half of new virtual visit users were baby boomers
Though a greater proportion of Gen Zers and millennials used a virtual visit during the pandemic than did other generational cohorts, at least a quarter of each cohort tried one during this time. Surprisingly, baby boomers accounted for the greatest proportion of new users. Their use of virtual visits increased 155%--jumping from 9% pre-pandemic to 23% during.
This increase is significant and shows how quickly telehealth has come to permeate consumer segments who have traditionally been much more resistant to virtual care. As the biggest health care consumers, baby boomers' telehealth adoption has the potential to drive a new wave of virtual care demand for payers—including CMS.
What's more, virtual visit users were spread across a variety of modalities—55% have used phone visits, 55% video visits, and 17% secure messaging—but 27% of all consumers used more than one type. This shows how telehealth use is likely to function in the future: in whatever combination of channels and modalities represents the most convenient, accessible, and effective ways for consumers to receive care.
2. Patients are impatient
Consumers have previously shown low wait time tolerance for in-person care, and their mandate rings true for virtual care. Three in five consumers would consider a virtual visit if they had to wait at least a day to see their regular provider in person.
As wait time increases, so does openness to trying telehealth. At the crux of the pandemic, consumers reported being less patient than in 2017 for even single day wait times for in-person care—that's a 76% increase in three years. In addition, almost 40% of consumers are willing to turn to virtual visits if their regular provider's office is closed.
So, providers can take advantage of consumers' low wait time tolerance to bolster their telehealth strategy. By offering things such as immediate virtual walk-in appointments or expanded hours outside of the regular 9-to-5, virtual visit providers will be able to attract those impatient consumers and convert volumes to telehealth.
We also see interesting trends across generations. Here, as age increases, wait time tolerance for in-person visits decreases. For example, 75% of consumers older than 74 would shift to virtual care if they had to wait two weeks to see their regular provider, relative to 37% of consumers aged 18-23. Therefore, between baby boomers' impressive rates of telehealth adoption and low wait time tolerance, virtual care can no longer be considered just for the younger populations.
3. Consumers' appetite for virtual visits has increased substantially since we last surveyed consumers in 2017—across all clinical scenarios
In 2017, we asked consumers about their virtual visit use and preferences across a number of clinical scenarios. Three years later, we were able to benchmark our new, Covid-19-era data against these previous data, revealing where consumer attitudes have changed—and by exactly how much.
Overall, openness to virtual care has increased across every clinical scenario we assessed. In fact, even the lowest-ranked category in 2020, weight loss or smoking cessation, was 6% higher than the highest-ranked scenario in 2017. The message here is clear: Consumers are turning to virtual care for their prescription refills, ongoing care, and even oncology consultations and pre-/post-operative care.
4. Consumers don't want to see just any doctor virtually—they want to see a familiar face
When given the option to see a known provider versus a new provider via virtual platforms, consumers prefer seeing the known provider.
Looking at tele-dermatology, 61% of our survey respondents reported interest in using virtual visits to see their regular dermatologist for low-acuity cases, like rashes or acne—a 79% increase from 2017. However, when we asked the same question, but about seeing a new dermatologist virtually, consumers were much less open to the idea. Interestingly, this preference was most pronounced for the youngest (those 18-23) and oldest (those over age 74) consumers.
Similar to dermatology, virtual behavioral health became much more appealing in 2020, but being familiar with the virtual provider is critical. According to our survey, 62% of consumers would consider using virtual behavioral health with their regular provider, but that dropped to only 44% for a provider they hadn't seen before. Of those that preferred seeing a familiar face, Gen Z again had the strongest preference for knowing their provider beforehand, with 23% being more comfortable with a virtual visit if they were seeing a familiar face compared with a new provider.
This data obviously doesn't represent the breadth of different specialties, but the consistent preference for a known physician indicates that consumers are going to want—and even expect—their familiar providers to offer virtual care options.
You have the insights, now what?
Explore your next steps: Conversations you should be having to make our data actionable and bolster your future telehealth strategy.
As telehealth evolves from clinic add-on to necessity, here are conversations providers should have to understand strengths, growth areas, and the road ahead.
- What are our experiences with telehealth pre- and during Covid-19? Does this data change our understanding of consumer virtual visit preferences?
- How are we promoting telehealth services to patients? Where and how are we advertising virtual visit options to patients? Are we offering tools or cheat sheets for consumers to increase comfort and long-lasting use of virtual visits? What features can we emphasize for certain segments to make the service more attractive (e.g., see a familiar provider, wait less than a day to be seen)?
- How are we supporting frontline clinicians? Do we understand clinician pain points or concerns about virtual care? What type of training do we offer for first-timers and clinicians who don't use virtual visits frequently? Do we have a forum for best practice sharing?
- What investments or workflow changes do we need to make for the long term? How well does our technology work? How well does it integrate into our current workflows and what we envision future workflows will look like?