Pulse Survey: Will the Telemedicine Wave Continue in 2021?

by | Feb 4, 2021 | Health Tech

It’s no secret that telemedicine has emerged as a critical component of healthcare during the COVID-19 crisis. But now that many state and local governments have eased restrictions on nonessential businesses, we’re seeing outpatient visits rebound to pre-pandemic levels and more people seeking in-person care again. Now we’re left to ask: how will patients use telemedicine this year? And, what barriers must the industry hurdle to get virtual care in front of as many Americans as possible?

To dive into these questions and get a pulse on how consumers plan to use telemedicine this year, we surveyed 262 full-time employees about their experiences using virtual care and views on emerging technologies.

Methodology: 262 U.S. consumers, ages 18-65, employed full-time

The pandemic encouraged employees to try telemedicine for the first time.

  • Seventy-five percent of employees said they never used telemedicine prior to COVID-19, but more than one-third (35%) of those same respondents report they have used it since.
  • Of all employees surveyed, 59% say at least one person in their household has used telemedicine since the start of COVID-19. 

Recent telemedicine adopters like it—and plan to continue use for routine health care services in 2021.

  • Of the people who tried telemedicine for the first time during the pandemic, more than half (54%) report that this year, they will seek virtual options for all routine health care services, and go in-person specifically for services that can’t be done virtually. Only 13% of these respondents say they’re going back in person because they believe the quality of care is better.
  • In fact, 100% of respondents who tried telemedicine for the first time during the pandemic are now open to receiving at least one type of healthcare service virtually.

However, several new adopters prefer the traditional in-person office experience, and telemedicine isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

  • One-fourth (25%) of those who tried telemedicine for the first time during the pandemic report they’re going back to routine in-person services because they prefer the experience of meeting face-to-face with their doctors, while only 1% are solely seeking telemedicine options and avoiding going in-person altogether.

To drive further adoption, it may be helpful for telemedicine platforms to offer employees visits with clinicians with whom they already have an in-person relationship.

Building a trusting relationship may alleviate concerns about the quality of care.

  • Of the respondents who have never used telemedicine, only 12% say they’re considering seeking virtual options for routine services this year. Their top reason for not using telemedicine is they don’t feel like they will receive quality care (32%).
  • However, more than half (50%) of these respondents say they would be more willing to use telemedicine if appointments were with medical providers they already know —indicating the need to build trusting relationships with this group and double down on personalized education around telemedicine’s benefits.

Employers also play an important role in driving telemedicine adoption for those who have never used it.

  • Of employees who have never used telemedicine, one-in-ten (11%) say it’s because they don’t know how to access it. This highlights the opportunity for more employers to improve their communication efforts around their offering and improve accessibility.

Employees are currently most comfortable receiving basic health care services virtually.

  • When looking at all respondents, they’re most comfortable with receiving basic services virtually, like prescription refills (68%), primary care (45%), and mental health (45%).
  • Current comfortability with non-routine health care services is comparatively low, such as specialty care (16%), and physical therapy (9%), but these are more complex services to offer virtually compared to prescription refills, primary care, and mental health services. I anticipate these numbers will be higher as innovations continue to develop in these areas.
  • Unsurprisingly, comfortability is higher among people who have recently used telemedicine and plan to this year (78% primary care, 78% prescriptions refills, 68% mental health, 29% specialty care, 26% urgent care, 12% physical therapy).

Read more about telemedicine in our Telemedicine Benefits Guide

Telemedicine adopters may drive the utilization of connected health devices and other emerging health technologies.

  • In general, two-thirds (66%) of consumers are very or somewhat likely to wear a connected device to monitor their health if prescribed by a medical provider. This percentage jumps to nearly three-fourths (74%) for those who plan to use telemedicine this year.
  • Additionally, 64% of those who plan to use telemedicine this year are also willing to try virtual reality as a treatment for depression or anxiety if prescribed by their doctor, compared to 49% of all respondents. These data points support that telemedicine adopters’ comfortability with using technology in their health care experience stems beyond the initial phone or video visit, and this group can play a role in driving innovation.

Certainly, this survey just captures 262 consumers, but the data supports what I’ve seen over the past year: employees want and need virtual care more than ever before. As consumer comfortability with telemedicine increases, employers are well-positioned to steer employees to more convenient and affordable care.

Keep an eye out for future blog posts where I’ll dig deeper into the trends revealed in our survey and my thoughts on the future of telemedicine.

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