Pandemic Increases Patients’ Readiness to Embrace Telehealth Technology

By Robin Hill, Chief Clinical Officer, VP of Clinical Solutions, Vivify Health
Twitter: @VivifyHealth

My, what a difference a year (and a global pandemic) makes.

Last year, Vivify’s annual consumer survey about attitudes toward virtual care showed that only 17% of Americans said they had access to remote care. This year, a full 70% of respondents say at least one of their providers now offers telehealth.

That is quite an increase in just 12 months, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. As the U.S. went into lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic, in-person care drastically diminished, whether as a result of providers closing their offices or patients avoiding care settings out of fear of acquiring the virus.

That didn’t mean Americans suddenly stopped getting hurt, getting sick or overcame their chronic conditions, however. They still needed to consult with their physicians.

Virtual care, which until 2020 had been playing a minor but valuable role in the healthcare industry, instantly went from potential disruptor to center stage. Healthcare consumers seeking routine check-ups or regular health monitoring check-ins began uncovering the benefits of telehealth and remote patient monitoring and embracing it as a viable option in their healthcare journey.

This attitude is reflected in the fact that roughly half of survey respondents said they are not planning to put off regular medical visits or physical check-ups due to the health crisis. In addition, an overwhelming majority, 73 percent, are not planning to put off major surgery, elective or non-elective.

And for those respondents that don’t currently have access to telehealth, half reported that the impact of COVID-19 has made them more willing to explore virtual care in the future. In fact, nearly 80 percent of respondents reported they are very or somewhat interested in switching to providers who can accommodate virtual visits.

Embracing Virtual Care Visits
Thanks to increased use of mobile devices across demographics, two-thirds (66%) of responding patients said that virtual visits can address at least some of their medical concerns. An additional 27% indicated that most of their medical needs can be met using telemedicine.

More importantly, the survey seems to show that patients have a newfound willingness to use telehealth. We are seeing a shift in how patients are embracing telehealth altogether.

There is a growing, disruptive demand coming directly from the consumer. In last year’s survey, we underscored that consumers look for convenience, transparency and efficiency in healthcare.

Although that call from healthcare consumers remains consistent this year, what’s evolved is the value of patient-centered relationship building through virtual care. And that expectation from patients will earn those providers that offer a seamless telemedicine experience a competitive advantage.

A new study from Mayo Clinic noted patients are satisfied with telemedicine encounters for reasons beyond access, convenience and prescription receipt. Beyond the expected conveniences, eight out of ten respondents reported an overall positive experience using telemedicine technology.

For certain types of visits, virtual services play a broader role in both preventative and chronic care management, and patients are finding telemedicine more efficient with always-on availability as a large draw.

From the Provider: Delivering Convenience, Comfort and Care
Patients are not the only ones benefitting from the increased use of telehealth. Providers are also finding it to be more efficient and effective in many instances than in-person visits.

The latest survey findings indicate having options that meet the healthcare consumer when and where they want to participate in care delivery can only help to improve higher patient satisfaction and ultimately reduce readmission rates, improve healthcare outcomes and lower overall healthcare spending.

For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, through a collaboration with the Optum network and the nation’s largest health insurer, UnitedHealth Group, we were able to reschedule more than 4,000 appointments for high-risk patients – those with chronic conditions such as severe diabetes or heart failure – to virtual visits. And that’s only the beginning.

Since then, we have continued ramping up our At-Home Patient Monitoring Program to serve a critical patient population during the pandemic by virtually triaging their medical activities. In our virtual patient monitoring encounters, we ask a series of questions about a patient’s current state, and capture Bluetooth biometric data such as blood pressure, weight or blood glucose levels.

Data is captured and answers flow into a centralized portal where the data can be monitored. Simultaneously, a provider or healthcare team can engage with the patient through video chats and secure text messaging to do a virtual check-in.

Looking Ahead: New Normal of Healthcare
As COVID-19 progressed from discovery to public health emergency to global pandemic, the use and acceptance of telehealth accelerated as health systems, hospitals and physician practices looked to provide care safely. However, there is still a lot of work and education needed to equip patients with the right technology and understanding to facilitate more successful remote visits.

The silver lining is that as we move to the post COVID-19 way of life, more patients have experienced the benefits of virtual health firsthand and have warmed up to the new way of interacting with providers. And under a backdrop of a pandemic, with an end that’s uncertain, many patients and providers are rapidly adopting telemedicine tools and technologies that can fully substitute for not just chronic, but also acute hospital care in the new normal of healthcare.

This article was originally published on Vivify Health and is republished here with permission.