Telehealth availability has played a crucial role in care plans for providers and their patients since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. eMDs has been monitoring adoption amongst our clients closely. In early April, eMDs conducted a website poll of healthcare professionals asking how the pandemic had influenced their use of telehealth. 60% of respondents indicated that the pandemic pushed them to add telehealth solutions, while 21% that had telehealth reported an increase in volume. In a later poll, during the peak of the pandemic, eMDs asked what percentage of patient visits were now conducted via telehealth. 34% indicated that over half of their visits were now through telehealth. The question now becomes: will this remain the norm post-COVID?
Telehealth Adoption & Satisfaction
Prior to the pandemic, many practices didn’t leverage this valuable tool. According to a study released in October 2019, only 10% of healthcare consumers report having used telehealth services. Among those consumers, the satisfaction rate for telehealth services was high. 46% of respondents reported being highly satisfied with their experiences.
Among consumers who have not used telehealth, 29% indicate that telehealth is not available to them and 37% say they do not know if it is offered by their health provider or health system. According to survey responses rural areas are the least served as only 25% of respondents reported telehealth services being available. Rural areas especially would benefit from telehealth providers if available and if patients are aware of their options.
One of the most common ways patients become aware that telehealth is a tool available and a viable option is word of mouth. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of patients used the service because they received a positive recommendation from others: friend or family member or their primary care doctor or employer. 84% of patients who have used these services were able to completely resolve their medical concern(s) during their visit and 73% didn’t experience any issues during their appointment. This is proof of it being a viable option for practices.
For those who haven’t used telehealth, 29% of patients reported that telehealth wasn’t available to them. 37% of patients were not sure if their provider or health system offered telehealth services. For practices that offer telehealth services, but have not seen high adoption rates, it may be a patient awareness issue. Make sure you are speaking to your patients about telehealth options during office visits. Leverage your patient engagement tools to send email, text, or phone messages introducing the service and providing instructions for how patients can book. This can lead to increased use.
Telehealth Beyond COVID-19
While COVID-19 has certainly accelerated the telehealth services adoption process for practices, the demand for these services will not decrease. Once a new normal has been reached, patients who are aware of telehealth, its conveniences, and other benefits will continue to want it as an option. Experts from the AMA agree and are working with government officials to keep the relaxed regulations for telemedicine services in place long term. “There are going to be changes in the practice of medicine going forward based on all this use of telehealth. We are quite certain of that,” said Sandy Marks, the AMA’s senior assistant director for federal affairs. “We are definitely going to be pushing for some of these new policy flexibilities to remain in place.” According to our own research, 83% of healthcare professionals said they are likely to keep telehealth services post-COVID.
Telehealth services can play a key role in your practice’s business as a long-term addition. You can remotely monitor chronic care patients, set follow up appointments, and even treat minor conditions. These are billable events, giving your practice another revenue stream. Adopting telehealth for the long-term can be something your practice is hesitant to do, but patients increasingly demand these services. There are operational best practices you can implement to better care for your patients with tools they are satisfied using.
The telehealth services adoption rate prior to COVID-19 was low. However, the patients that did use these services were overwhelmingly satisfied with them. Now that more practices have adopted it, once awareness grows among their patients through word of mouth and broadcast notifications, the demand for telehealth will stay. Practices willing to adopt these services long-term will see use among their patients as long as they are available.