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4 things you need to know about patient interest in virtual visits

October 25, 2017

    The market for virtual visits appears to be growing rapidly. Providers are conducting more visits online and the vast majority of employers plan to offer telehealth services this year. But are patients really eager and ready to take advantage of such services?

    virtual visits

    Advisory Board surveyed nearly 5,000 patients to understand their opinions on virtual visits. The bottom line: While patients' interest in virtual visits is on the rise—77% of consumers would consider seeing a provider virtually—the likelihood of a patient using a virtual visit still depends on a number of factors.

    Here's what you need to know:

    1. Insurance type matters.

    Privately insured patients are more likely to use virtual visits than publicly or uninsured patients. While approximately 15% of privately insured respondents have had had least one virtual visit, less than 4% of publicly and uninsured respondents have.

    Patient preferences may be related to age—elderly patients, likely insured by Medicare, are less inclined to use virtual visits than younger patients. However, regulations surrounding telehealth reimbursement for public payers have historically limited the use of virtual visits among these beneficiaries as well.

    This year, lawmakers have proposed legislation that would change Medicare payment policies for telehealth. Therefore, your provider customers are likely closely watching whether the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will loosen these restrictions and allow virtual visits to become more widespread among publicly-insured populations.

    2. Elderly adults are less interested in virtual visits, but these patients should not be written off entirely.

    Elderly patients may not seek out virtual visits for themselves, but their children and caregivers tell a different story. In Advisory Board's survey, just 2.6% of patients over age 65 reported having used a virtual visit, but nearly three quarters of respondents age 18-29 and nearly one third of respondents aged 30-49 would consider a virtual visit for a parent if he or she was sick.

    3. The convenience factor gives virtual visits a boost—but patients are still wary of care quality.

    Patient interest in virtual visits increases when they're faced with longer wait times for an in-person sick care visit. And the longer patients need to wait, the more likely they are to take advantage of virtual visits. If they would have to wait one day for an in-person appointment, 34% of respondents would strongly consider a virtual visit. But if they would have to wait a week or more, 51% of respondents would strongly consider it.

    Of course, greater interest in virtual visits doesn't mean that patients are without concerns. According to our survey, one-fifth of respondents listed care quality as their top concern with virtual visits. So while providers may use virtual visits to improve access, they must ensure that the quality of care is on par with an in-person visit and that virtual visit quality is marketed as such.

    4. Patients' interest in virtual visits can vary by service.

    When it comes to virtual visits, not all services are created equal. Based on our survey data, a few services stand out as particularly ripe for virtual visits. We found that:

    • 75% of patients would be willing to try a virtual visit to refill a prescription
    • 74% would be willing to try one to receive results from an oncologist and
    • 72% would be willing to try one for ongoing chronic care management.

    Additionally, more than half of adult respondents were interested in using a virtual visit for a sick child, implying that tele-pediatrics may be a good area for investment. As providers build out their telemedicine programs, you can expect them to go after these chart-topping services first.

    Implications for suppliers and service providers

    First, consider how the rise of virtual visits may impact demand for your existing goods and services. For example, providers may look to adjust their staffing levels as volumes shift from traditional to non-traditional sites of care. Moreover, while there will likely be increased demand for IT solutions, providers will ensure that they are investing in solutions compatible with various telehealth modalities.

    Additionally, consider how you can help provider organizations effectively market their telehealth services. Can you offer positive clinical outcomes data from virtual visits to ease patient concerns about care quality? Can you help providers advertise those services best suited for virtual delivery?

    Finally, as more care is delivered virtually, suppliers and service providers must remain vigilant about cybersecurity and ensuring the safety of patients' health information.

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