Telehealth benefits to patients continue to rise during uncertain times for social-distancing measures and future pandemic outbreaks
One of the concerns people have about the SARS-COV-2 virus, now known as COVID-19, is the rate at which it transfers from one person to the next. Though it’s still unclear exactly how contagious this virus is, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that it is spread “easily and sustainably in the community” – raising the stakes for telehealth benefits.
To make matters even worse, new research suggests that a new strain may transmit at a faster rate. According to a study published by bioRxiv, the preprint server for biology, a mutation of the coronavirus (Spike D614G) appears to spread more easily than other forms.
Findings such as this have helped transform telehealth from a convenience-based health care service to a service that is critical to reducing virus transmission.
Telehealth benefits: use spikes during coronavirus pandemic
In September 2019, Amwell published results of a consumer survey. This survey revealed that only 8% of consumers in the United States had previously tried telehealth.
The demographic using video-based doctor appointments the most were millennials at 40%. Seniors aged 65 and up had the lowest level of interest in this type of health care visit, even though many recognized that virtual meetings with their doctors could be beneficial for renewing prescriptions or engaging in chronic disease management and care.
Fast forward to March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic was becoming more apparent, and Healthcare Dive reported that Teledoc visits increased 70% over the same time period one year prior. Furthermore, out of this telehealth providers’ 20,000 virtual visits being provided per day, 60% were with new users.
Public perception of telehealth since COVID-19
In mid-March 2020, Sykes conducted a telehealth survey to learn more about how the public perceived telemedicine. Two-thousand respondents from across the country (500 each in the Midwest, Northeast, South, and West) were contacted and asked a total of 13 questions.
Approximately 19% of the respondents said that they had previously used telehealth services, an amount that is more than double what Amwell found just six months prior. Additionally, two-thirds of those who had used telehealth had engaged in more than one virtual appointment.
This suggests that, while use in general is still somewhat low, those who have tried telehealth are happy enough with this service to continue using it for future visits.
Shifting reasons for telehealth use
In Amwell’s September 2019 survey, different age groups cited different reasons for telehealth benefits. For instance, millennials (those between the ages of 18 and 34) reported a high interest in using this technology for behavioral health visits. Xennials (35 to 44-year-olds) felt that telehealth visits could save time, provide faster service, and reduce costs. Generation X (45 to 54-year-olds), baby boomers (55 to 64-year-olds), and seniors (65-years-old and up) all indicated that telehealth provided value for prescription renewal, with the latter two groups expressing interest in using it for chronic disease management as well.
In contrast, Sykes’ March 2020 survey found that one of the top reasons consumers value telemedicine is that they’re able to get diagnosed without sitting in a waiting room with others who are sick. Respondents reporting that this was a benefit was 38%, which suggests a high level of concern over contagiousness of the virus.
Another 36% indicated that they liked not having to commute to the doctor and 12% were happy with the same-day scheduling offered via telehealth benefits.
Future of telemedicine
The Cleveland Clinic shares that continuing to offer telehealth services in the future offers a variety of benefits. This includes providing care to patients in rural areas or those without the transportation needed to go into an actual office. Access to virtual visits also helps reduce healthcare costs as a whole by lowering the number of no-shows as well as unnecessary office or emergency room visits.
Making telehealth available to everyone does come with a few barriers. The Rural Health Information Hub reports that limited access to high speed internet and smartphones, reimbursement issues, and doctors’ concerns over medical malpractice policies not covering virtual visits can all hinder the progression of telemedicine in the future.
Though it’s difficult, if not impossible, to quantify how many lives have been saved by using telehealth during the coronavirus pandemic, it does appear that consumers are finding more value in this type of doctor’s visit as a result. It enables them to continue their healthcare routine without putting themselves and their families at greater risk – a great return during an uncertain time and uncertain future.