Although mainstream use of telehealth has been slower to develop than the industry predicted, it’s gaining traction. Soon, it’s not a stretch to say telehealth services for non-urgent care will be as normal to the modern healthcare consumer’s life as online banking.
Typically (in the patient’s view), the term “telehealth” (also known as telemedicine or virtual care in many areas of the industry) refers to physicians providing non-urgent care via video or phone consults. The concept can also include digital-based consults with nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and licensed behavioral health professionals.
And all of these types of interactions are all about to experience a major growth spurt.
Consumer use of telehealth: Why the faster change now?
First, let’s follow the money. After years of strict state and federal regulation restrictions on paying for telehealth services, governmental controls are beginning to loosen.
In addition, unnecessary emergency department (ED) visits are a major drain on health plan budgets and patient bottom lines. According to a report from Premier Inc., roughly 30% of ED visits to treat common chronic conditions are potentially unnecessary. That translates to $8.3 billion in additional costs. One study found that 80% of adults who visited the ED ended up there because they weren’t able to see a primary care physician. If health plans can drive their members to regularly use telehealth, these costs could be significantly reduced. This is a big motivator, and it is another reason telehealth is primed for progress.
Another care-on-demand driver: Consumers of all ages are ready
Studies show nearly 70% of healthcare consumers are willing to use telehealth. That number will only increase, too, as more consumers try virtual care services. Satisfaction scores from consumers who have used telehealth average more than 850 on a 1,000-point scale, according to a survey by J.D. Power. Almost half of telehealth patients surveyed rated their experience with a score above 900. These rates rival the satisfaction scores for mobile banking, which are the third-most-used apps among all consumers. And here at Carenet Health, our data also shows satisfaction rates rise as patients use telehealth services—in general, the more familiar the process, the more satisfied they become.
Although millennials may seem like the obvious telemedicine demographic (and they are some of the early adopters), consumers willing to use telehealth span a wide range of ages. More than half of U.S. seniors say they would use telemedicine, according to recent surveys. They’re especially interested in virtual chronic disease check-ins and prescription renewal appointments. Ultimately, all ages are on the cusp of increased use.
Plus, telehealth copays are being reduced
Health plans and employers are also beginning to reduced copays for telehealth. That means there is lower risk and less cumbersome financial barriers for patients. More Medicaid, Medicare, commercial plans and large employers are piloting low-cost and free virtual care options. This is yet another reason more people will adopt telehealth as an everyday healthcare solution.
A solution for social determinants of health, too
There is a concerted effort in the healthcare industry to find ways to address social determinants of health (SDOH). Telehealth is definitely part of the answer. Virtual care makes care more accessible for people who don’t have flexible schedules or childcare, who may not have access to transportation or who live in rural areas. It can also be critical to better behavioral health support.
Voice-assistants accessing telehealth
Telemedicine will also likely be linked to the rising use of voice assistants like Alexa and Google. It’s not out of the question to assume that voice assistants will connect to telehealth services. When people are saying “Alexa, call the Virtual Clinic,” when fevers and rashes are present, we’ll know that telehealth has solidified its place in mainstream America.
How can you boost use of your telehealth services?
Mainly, low consumer use boils down to a lack of awareness and education. Consumers may still question the quality of the care—they may not realize that virtual care is a high-quality option. Maybe they’re not sure what kinds of concerns can be addressed during a telehealth visit. The onus is on providers, health plans and employers to provide the information and encourage use—maybe even through incentives—and make the process of using virtual care as easy as possible.