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article imageQ&A: Patients prefer a provider who offers telemedicine services Special

By Tim Sandle     Oct 21, 2019 in Health
A telehealth survey of nearly 400 U.S. patients finds a growing interest in and impressions of video conferencing as a replacement for in-person doctor visits. Consumers are gravitating towards providers of such services.
The survey comes from Software Advice and it finds that telemedicine is increasing in popularity, to the extent that 81 percent of patients are more likely to select a medical provider who offers telemedicine services over one who does not when choosing doctors. However, the survey also reveals that 63 percent percent of patients do not know if telemedicine is covered by their insurance provider.
To learn more about the key trends from the survey, Digital Journal spoke with Lisa Hedges Senior Medical Analyst at Software Advice.
Digital Journal: How would you define telemedicine?
Lisa Hedges: Telemedicine is any method that allows for the secure, remote delivery of medical care to diagnose, treat, or monitor patients. It can include anything from conducting appointments via video conferencing to communicating lab results through secure messaging systems.
DJ: How is the effect of telemedicine assessed?
Hedges: I would say much like the effect of any delivery of care model. If patients are happy, if treatment outcomes are positive, and if patient information is secured, that means telemedicine is working. To actually assess these factors, I recommend practices run patient polls. They are your customers, and understanding their perspective is the best way to figure out if you’re meeting their needs with the way you’re offering care.
DJ: What are the key advantages?
Hedges: We ran a survey of our own to try and learn exactly how patients feel about telemed. The top benefits according to patients are not having to travel to a doctor’s office and enjoying the comforts of home while seeking medical care and faster access to medical treatment with reduced wait times.
All of that makes a lot of sense when you think about how people generally feel when going to the doctor. If you’re fighting a sinus infection, the last thing you want to do is get dressed and go out in public. And that doesn’t even touch on specialty providers; for patients with chronic conditions, the ability to remotely monitor their progress saves them time and generally makes lives easier.
DJ: How do patient's react?
Hedges: Patients in our survey react positively to telemedicine. Eighty-one percent said they would be more likely to choose a doctor who provides telemedicine over one who doesn’t when assessing new medical providers, so that tells you how big of an impact it has on gaining new patients.
We also asked patients whether they would prefer a telemedical appointment or in-person for various symptoms, and we found that many prefer telemed for a variety of ailments. For example, 45% of patients said they would prefer a telemedical consultation over an in-person one if they were experiencing headaches.
DJ: Do most insurance firms offer telemedicine?
Hedges: It does seem to be the case that most insurance plans do include coverage for telemedicine, but there’s obviously so much variability in the market that it’s hard to nail down a specific number. What’s interesting, though, is when we asked patients whether or not they knew if their insurance plans covered it, 63 percent said they didn’t know.
This tells me that insurance providers who do offer telemed coverage need to be doing a better job of communicating those benefits to patients.
DJ: How is telemedicine likely to grow?
Hedges: Well when we ran the same survey back in 2017, we found that 72 percent of patients didn’t know if telemedicine was covered by their insurance plans and that 83 percent of patients had never used telemedicine. This year, only 63 percent weren’t aware of telemedicine coverage and 66 percent said they had never used telemed before.
Those are still big numbers, so I’m not saying telemedicine is completely ubiquitous now, but I do think the trajectory is worth paying attention to. As younger demographics who are traditionally more comfortable with technology begin to age, I think telemedicine is going to continue to grow in the healthcare market. We’re already seeing big health organizations prepare for that by expanding telemed budgets, so laying the groundwork today—adopting telemedicine systems, learning how to use them securely, introducing patients to these tools—will give practices an advantage tomorrow.
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