What is holding up telehealth acceptance? Some clues can be gleaned from a recent white paper published by Avizia shows the significant percentage of the population that has yet to discover telehealth. According to this white paper, 82% of patients surveyed have not used telemedicine as a source of care. Of the 18% who have used it, most are happy with it and would use it again. In other published surveys, patient satisfaction with telemedicine care is usually in the 95+% range.
When patients who had used telehealth services listed the reasons for doing so, the list included: Time savings and convenience (59%), Faster service and shorter wait times (55%), Cost savings due to less travel (43%), Better Access to specialists (25%), A more comfortable experience (16%), and A longer conversation with a clinician (16%).
Despite the high level of patient satisfaction and the many noted advantages cited by patients who do use telemedicine, there is a significant majority of the population that is still in the dark about this valid format of accessing medical care. In some scenarios, it is simply an educational push that needs to occur. About 10% of those surveyed say then have never even heard of it. 58% say they have not had the opportunity to use it. Part of this 58% is likely to be unsure of when, where, and how they should utilize telemedicine services. Additionally, as a society, we are still strongly tied to our health insurance plans. Even if it would be less expensive to travel outside the insurance plan to use a low cost telemedicine option, it has been ingrained in our brains over the past several decades to stay "in-network". Well the good news here is that most health insurers do cover telemedicine in most states. For a map of the telemedicine laws and policies in each state, check out this interactive map from the Center for Connected Health Policy.
In particular, for those that are using a high-deductible health plan with or without a Health Savings Account (HSA), you as a patient are paying for a good percentage of your medical care out of your pocket or bank account anyway. If the medical scenario matches the telemedicine capabilities, the quality is good, and the cost is right, why wouldn't we as patients utilize online services more often? We do this already with banking, shopping, getting insurance, and much more. The answer still lies in knowledge and trust. Since our mindset is often tightly tied to our insurance plans, our insurance plans will need to start doing a better job of educating the public about the coverage of telehealth care. Most people are unsure if telemedicine is a covered service. If they are unsure, they are more likely to go with the sure bet, which is standard (and often more expensive and inconvenient) medical office visits, urgent care, or ER visits.
For those patients with the experience of using a telehealth service, the satisfaction surveys generally tell a truthful story. Satisfaction is high. For those patients that have no had the experience, it falls upon the health insurers to let patients know about what benefits they are entitled to. It also falls upon the medical community to create evidence based guidelines upon which to standardize a safe and consistent method of patient care via telehealth technologies. And lastly, it falls upon patients who have used telemedicine, to help spread the knowledge through social media posts, online reviews, and regular word of mouth to help change the healthcare paradigm to a more convenient and cost effective care model. 82% of the population is equivalent to millions upon millions of patients that have yet to realize the potential of where telehealth can fit into their lives and improve upon their health and how they access healthcare.
Written by Dr. Jonathon Savage, DO. Emergency Physician and Founder of Care on Location, a Colorado-based Telemedicine Service Provider.