The COVID-19 pandemic and mandatory shelter-at-home orders helped propel telemedicine to the forefront of health-care delivery. Many patient consumers are experiencing telemedicine for the first time and the majority of consumers are quite satisfied with this experience. It seems that phone and video-conferencing applications are a new norm and are here to stay when it comes to interacting with a health-care provider. For patient consumers, they appreciate the convenience and (for many) the lower cost of a telemedicine health-care visit. Further, they feel that access to schedule a provider session is the same if not better through the telemedicine modality than an in-person visit.
Although thorough satisfaction studies related to telemedicine are limited, to date, there does not seem to be a significant satisfaction change between patient-consumer generational levels. Overall, most are satisfied with telemedicine visits regardless of age. Not surprisingly, comfortability with using a computer does play a correlated role with overall telemedicine satisfaction. Those with knowledge on computer use are generally more satisfied with video visits than those with no or limited computer-use knowledge. When contemplating future care, patient consumers envision health care that incorporates a mix of telemedicine and in-person visits.
Some key factors to consider when offering telemedicine visits include:
1) The logistics of conducting the telemedicine session. This incorporates the comfort level of the patient and provider with using a telehealth system, the quality of the equipment being used for both voice and video, and the reliability and bandwidth of the internet connection. Organizations using telemedicine should have a reliable back-up plan (e.g., immediate phone-call fallback approach) should a computer telephone system fail.
2) Assurance of patient confidentiality and privacy protection. Patient feedback on telemedicine thus far indicates that there is some trepidation that telemedicine applications may not fully protect patient privacy. Organizations should share their security measures in advance with patients prior to scheduling a telemedicine visit.
3) Patients’ past experience with telemedicine. Those patients with multiple, past telemedicine-visit experience are more apt to embrace this interactive model.
4) The subject matter and type of the visit. Patients who are presenting with a possible embarrassing medical condition may not be good candidates for a telemedicine visit. It may also not be wise to conduct a telemedicine visit if the patient and provider need to review ancillary specialist consults, lab, or X-ray results.
5) The relationship of the patient and the practice. For patients new to a practice, relationship building is essential. Patients want confirmation that they are “making a connection” with their health-care provider(s). For these patients, it may be best to offer in-person visits rather than telemedicine visits, unless the patient requests such a virtual visit.
Both patient consumers and providers agree that telemedicine is a trend that is here to stay. It is one of those transformations that have been imposed as a result of the pandemic and is now becoming a mainstay of health-care delivery. Going to the doctor for many is now a virtual experience.
Mark Dengler is president of Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS), a health-care marketing and research firm, whose work includes serving as a patient-satisfaction survey vendor.