The quality of care provided through telemedicine has improved over the course of the pandemic—and almost three-quarters of participating patients now report that they plan to receive some or all of their care through telemedicine after the pandemic, according to a new report from Doximity.
For the report, researchers surveyed 2,000 patients and more than 1,000 physicians between January 2020 and June 2021 to analyze telemedicine adoption and experiences over time.
Researchers found that there was significant telemedicine adoption across all physician age groups. In addition, adoption was higher in specialties with high proportions of patients with chronic illnesses, such as endocrinology, gastroenterology, and rheumatology.
Many of the physicians surveyed for the report also said telemedicine helped their relationship with their patients. Specifically, over 67% said that telemedicine helped them build or maintain trust with patients from historically marginalized communities.
According to the researchers, this increase in trust may be because "telemedicine increased patient feelings of safety, providing access to care without the potential infectious exposure risk (and inconvenience) of in-person visits to busy clinical settings." They added that "the ease of including family and other caregivers in a virtual setting, regardless of their physical location" may have also influenced patient trust.
When it comes to patients' experiences with telemedicine, 55% reported that telemedicine provides the same or better quality of care as in-person visits, up from 40% who said the same in 2020. According to the researchers, this increase in patient satisfaction may be due to improvements in telemedicine technology and delivery.
Many patients also indicated that telemedicine will be a normal part of their care even after the pandemic. Over 73% of patients surveyed said they planned to receive some or all of their care through telemedicine after the pandemic—an increase from 58% who expressed a similar sentiment in 2020. In particular, patients with chronic illnesses were the most likely to say they would continue using telemedicine in the future.
According to the researchers, this interest in telemedicine going forward was consistent across race and ethnicity. "It's clear that telemedicine is now an expected part of [patients'] health care experience, even as they think about life beyond the pandemic," they wrote.
However, the researchers noted that broadband access continues to be an important factor in virtual care access and health equity. In particular, 19% of patients with household incomes below $25,000 rely on their smartphones for internet access at home. To promote health equity in telemedicine, they suggest health care systems invest in "mobile-first solutions that optimize for potentially slower, variable internet speeds."
Overall, the researchers wrote that, going forward, they anticipate "that demand for telemedicine service options will remain strong, and health care systems may even find themselves competing to provide the best telemedicine experience." (Jercich, Healthcare IT News, 2/16; Doximity State of Telemedicine report, 2/16)
Across the past few years, health care organizations have rapidly implemented new technologies in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. After this flurry of investment, it is only natural for organizations to slow their pace of adoption as they evaluate next steps. This potential lack of urgency, however, can backfire and derail future progress.
Join us on Tuesday, Mar. 8, at 1 p.m. ET as Advisory Board’s Moji Ndukwe and Ty Aderhold share their perspective on telehealth, artificial intelligence, and the future of health tech.
By John League, Managing Director
Telehealth is here to stay. That doesn't mean there aren't obstacles to its effective and widespread use. But clearly enthusiasm is strong, and pressure will continue to grow to sustain access to telehealth—including scalable applications beyond the virtual video visit.
While overall telehealth use has declined from early-pandemic levels, its breadth of use has only increased. For example, Advisory Board's most recent telehealth claims analysis shows that telehealth visits as a percentage of all eligible services in Medicare fee-for-service claims fell from about 20% in April 2020 to 5% most recently. At the same time, this new survey from Doximity survey shows that the percentage of patients who had a virtual visit at least once annually grew to 67% in 2021, up from 42% in 2020 and 25% before the pandemic.
Local providers clearly hold enormous influence over the future direction of telehealth. We know that local systems have delivered the vast majority of telehealth services over the past two years. This survey also shows that four out of every five patients would rather wait one to three days to connect with their own physician than use telehealth to see a new doctor immediately. Whether telehealth remains a viable way for patients to interact with clinicians will depend largely on clinicians. It's not going to be enough simply to offer these services and have patients self-select into them. Clinicians have to recommend telehealth to patients when it would be beneficial.
However, the future of telehealth is not simply more virtual video visits with a doctor. The Doximity survey consistently shows that patients with chronic conditions are more likely to use telehealth and view it positively. These patients are also the most likely to benefit from other applications of telehealth like remote monitoring and chat-based interactions. When we limit our view of telehealth to the video visit, we ignore the potential of these technologies to make better care possible for more patients at scale.
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