Telehealth Is Here to Stay (But Your Patients Still Prefer ‘You’ in Person)

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For some patients, it’s been a long time since they’ve seen you, like have really seen you, thanks to imposed distancing of COVID-19. It took some getting used to for some, but still, telehealth can fairly be termed a rousing success.

That’s confirmed by healthcare systems and services provider McKinsey & Company, which reported in early July that “in April 2020, overall telehealth utilization for office visits and outpatient care was seventy-eight times higher than in February 2020.”

[ Read: 4 Tips for Positive Patient Communication for New General Practitioners ]

Telehealth’s future is being widely discussed by politicians at both state and federal levels right now, and the prognosis is optimistic.

Telehealth Still Isn’t ‘All That’ for Everybody

More research from Neurocrine Biosciences/The Harris Poll Survey released July 22 found that 80 percent of us will always prefer in-person physician appointments to telehealth. In a press release, the companies confirmed that, yes, we Americans who love convenience in general also love the convenience of telehealth. But maybe not surprisingly, results showed that we don’t think telehealth meets all our healthcare needs.

The survey population of 2,589 U.S. adults 18 or older was conducted online from June 29 to July 2. You can read the details here, but here are a few pertinent highlights:

  • 87 percent said they were satisfied overall with telehealth, with 47 percent of those “very satisfied.”
  • 42 percent experienced technology issues, such as login, volume, or video challenges. (One might think that number was actually higher, as for many, including the elderly, telehealth was really “a new frontier.”)
  • Now, if a patient had a choice between telehealth or in-person visits, 66 percent would want that human contact, while 25 percent would still choose telehealth.

[ Read: Primary Care with a Familiar Name ]

  • The survey asked that if someone needed a particular service, whether they’d go the telehealth route or in-person. Respondents said the following, which are not all the examples in this category:
  • Annual physical: 77 percent in-person to 16 percent telehealth
  • Urgent problem: 77 percent in-person to 16 percent telehealth
  • Counseling/therapy: 52 percent in-person to 34 percent telehealth
  • Consultation: 50 percent in-person to 36 percent telehealth
  • A question asked that if a patient needed services from a specific kind of healthcare professional, would they prefer telehealth or in-person? With the exception of a mental health provider, every category from primary care through seven specialties, and physical therapy, rated a high percentage in favor of in-person, from 53 percent to 83 percent. Separately, 53 percent would also prefer telehealth for mental health visits.
  • With regard to future appointments, 54 percent of those surveyed confirmed they’d do telehealth again, while 46 percent said “not likely.”
  • A group of related questions really pointed to the reasons patients prefer in-person visits, and 80 percent determined that they will ALWAYS prefer in-person visits to telehealth. However, telehealth still rates, with 72 percent of Americans saying providers who do both in-person and telehealth are important—they still want to be able to choose. Fifty-three percent of them do worry, logically perhaps, that a provider might miss something with telehealth that they’d be more likely see during an in-person visit.
By Carly Smith
Carly Smith Assoc. Director, Career Services Carly Smith