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What Patients Like — and Dislike — About Telemedicine

Topic: What Patients Like — and Dislike — About Telemedicine

As the Covid pandemic swept across the U.S., providers nationwide switched one third or more of their in-person care to telephone and video encounters. While the volume of telemedicine visits has declined in recent months, it’s clear that the technology is here to stay — though there’s work to be done. A national Press Ganey survey that returned 1.3 million completed patient questionnaires found that while patients appreciate the convenience and, perhaps surprisingly, intimacy of virtual encounters, there is enormous room for improvement in the processes of telemedicine.

Across the 154 medical practices surveying both in-person and telemedicine visits between January and August 2020, telemedicine visits peaked at an estimated 37% of all encounters in early May, decreased to 22% in early July, and then leveled out around 15% by mid-August — still far above the pre-pandemic baseline of less than 1%. Overall adoption ranged between 18% to 22% across all age groups up to age 79, falling slightly (to 13%) among those 80 and older.

Even though most clinicians and patients were new to virtual visits at the start of the pandemic, patients have clearly come to appreciate them. In fact, in our survey patients were just as likely — or even slightly more likely — to give high ratings to their care providers after telemedicine visits compared with in-person care. This finding held true across specialties and for all measures of providers’ concern, ability to establish a connection, and trust-building. Among the reasons the telehealth connection seems to resonate with patients is that providers can actually seem more attentive on-screen. One patient commented that while her doctor always seemed distracted by a computer screen during in-person visits, during video visits the doctor looked directly at her. Some providers have also suggested that simply scheduling a televisit can signal a doctor’s attentiveness. As Jon Slotkin and colleagues at Geisinger wrote in HBR, “A shift in patients’ perception of telehealth has perhaps been the most important in increasing adoption, with attitudes moving from, This provider must not think my problem is important since they are seeing me via telehealth, to This provider cares about me and therefore is seeing me via telehealth.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is that patients clearly feel that the process of telemedicine (logistical things like ease of scheduling and making audio/video connections) falls short: while 89% of patients would recommend their provider after having had a telemedicine visit, only 76% of patients would recommend a video visit following a telemedicine visit.

Topic Discussed: What Patients Like — and Dislike — About Telemedicine

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