Consumer Demand and Expectations Push Providers to Up Their Telehealth Game

May 17, 2022
According to senior leaders, consumers have grown accustomed to virtual options offered during the pandemic and a hybrid model of in-person and telehealth visits will be commonplace moving forward

Telehealth and virtual care options took off during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two years later, telehealth has made its mark as a viable option for consumers and providers. Consumer demand for telehealth is holding strong and providers are now integrating virtual care into their practices with a hybrid care model.

According to a study that was published on March 21, 2022, ValuePenguin researchers analyzed U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey data—fielded Jan. 26 to Feb. 7, 2022—to estimate how many Americans use telehealth services and found that telehealth is here to stay. Twenty-two percent of Americans utilized telehealth services in the past four weeks when the study was conducted. Eleven percent conducted a video appointment and nine percent had their appointment via a regular phone call.

On the provider side, research published on March 15, 2022, from Optum, entitled “Provider telehealth use and experience survey,” found that healthcare providers say that telehealth will continue past the pandemic. Eden Prairie, Minn.-headquartered Optum is a pharmacy benefit manager and healthcare provider and is a part of the UnitedHealth Group.

A few interesting statistics from the research include:

  • Seventy-five percent of respondents say they conduct primary care visits via telehealth
  • Seventy-two percent of respondents say they conduct chronic care visits via telehealth
  • Thirty-nine percent of respondents say they conduct COVID-19 screenings via telehealth
  • Thirty-six percent of respondents say they conduct mental health concerns via telehealth

As to how telehealth and virtual care is changing the landscape, Nick Loftin, director of virtual care at Pivot Point Consulting says that “The two primary areas it's really changing in telehealth, and just healthcare in general, is the expectations of patients as well the increasing competition across organizations or the industry as a whole. We're seeing that patients have increased choices of platforms to receive healthcare. They're not only judging it based on the quality of care, but also the quality of the platform. Therefore, user interface is important and the ease of access. Then the promptness of the service or the delay from request to actual care delivery has been massive shift, just because there's more options available—an individual doesn’t have to go back to a place they don’t like, they can go somewhere else.”

Bret Anderson, a principal with The Chartis Group, a Chicago-based consulting firm, adds that “Consumers have grown accustomed to virtual being an option. I don't think that that's going away anytime soon. In many of the statistics that we've seen, consumers would be willing to switch for example, a primary care provider if robust telehealth or digital health options, whether it is a video visit or things like online scheduling, are not available. I think that we've transitioned from a point where telehealth is a means by which we maintain the relationship with our providers or the practices and health systems that we're familiar with. Because we didn't have that many other options at the beginning of the pandemic. I've seen a lot of survey data that shows the majority of patient consumers have had a virtual visit in the last year or two in the context of the pandemic, and that they expect to do that again.”

As for the future of telehealth, it shows no signs of slowing down. “Virtual care just replaced the landline, that replaced face to face, versus virtual care being much more of a coordinated system,” says Joon Sup Lee, M.D., president of UPMC Physician Services. “There aren't enough rheumatologists in this country for everyone who needs to be seen [by one]. We have specialized visits for rheumatology where we increase access by giving the patient a very short visit with a specialist and make a determination very quickly—whether [the specialist] thinks the patient really needs to see a rheumatologist. Also, we can determine if we should get bloodwork started before the patient actually travels to the rheumatologist. Mixing those person-to-person visits with virtual care can be very effective and quite efficient for everyone involved. It certainly increases access for the patients to the specialist that they would have ben forced to travel, perhaps a long distance to see.” 

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