Survey Results Hint at the Future of Telehealth
Some recent polling shows that while telehealth has a promising future, there are still challenges to overcome. While there is a growth in the use of telehealth services, many patients still haven’t gravitated toward it, and instead prefer traditional medical visits.
According to a Morning Consult poll, a majority of U.S. adults prefer in-person physician visits to telehealth visits. In a survey of 2,201 Americans, 53% said they’d rather use in-person healthcare than telehealth going forward. Interestingly, that number was 45% among those who had actually used telehealth in the past. For people who have used telehealth services, their experiences seem to be mostly positive: 91% of respondents said the process was ‘friendly’, 90% said it was ‘easy’, and 83% said it was ‘informational’.
Challenges facing telehealth
Since those who use telehealth often report a positive experience, it’s worth asking why many patients still prefer in-person visits. What do in-person visits provide that telehealth do not? Frank Micciche of the National Committee for Quality Assurance has suggested that consumers are hesitant about telehealth due to a lack of standardized quality standards. Furthermore, costs and finances are also holding back the growth of telehealth. While 2 in 5 of telehealth users in the Morning Consult survey said billing and payment said it was more convenient for virtual care than in-person, some experts have doubts about the cost-effectiveness of telehealth plans, with some saying consumers could pay more if telehealth visits lead to more follow-up care. Lastly, the virtual care advocacy group Alliance for Connected Care has suggested that lack of permanent Medicare recognition for telehealth services could be holding the industry back.
Telehealth could have a promising future. However, polls like those from Morning Consult and J. D. Power show there is still work to be done. Earlier this year, J. D. Power released their 2021 US Telehealth Satisfaction Survey. The survey found that there has actually been a decrease in patient satisfaction compared to the two previous telehealth surveys. Commonly-cited complaints include limited access, inconsistent care, and unclear information given during visits.
Lastly, it will be interesting to see if these results shift and change as the telehealth landscape evolves. In many ways, the stereotypical image of telehealth is someone meeting with their usual physician over a video call; indeed, Morning Consult found that 72% of telehealth visits were through a patient’s doctor and insurance. However, some companies and providers are offering a different model. There is a rise in direct-to-consumer telehealth, where patients can consult with providers on-demand and on their own schedule. This can be either synchronous, with patients and doctors meeting in real–time via phone or video, or asynchronous, where online forms and information are exchanged at different times. Examples include companies like Teladoc, LiveHealth, and MDLive. This field is in many ways still new, and it’ll be worth watching for how these on-demand services change consumer expectations for healthcare.
Due to changes made during the COVID-19 PHE, Medicare, Medicaid, and many private insurers will now pay for telehealth services. You can read about that change and what it means here. If you want to learn more about coding for telehealth visits, and some common challenges providers and coders face, we wrote an article about that subject, which you can find here.