Telemedicine has finally become very popular. However, concerns remain about its effectiveness in certain diagnoses and treatments.
Software Advice’s 2022 State of Telemedicine Survey finds that while a majority of people prefer virtual appointments for common illnesses, more than half of patients are still concerned about the quality of care they receive.
Software Advice, a Gartner company, surveyed more than 1,000 patients about their use of telemedicine about the worst of the pandemic – whether they intend to continue using it and whether improvements can be made.
We interviewed Lisa Hedges, Associate Principal Analyst at Software Advice, to discuss the study’s findings and talk about the future of telemedicine.
Q. What is the overarching message that healthcare CIOs and other healthcare IT leaders should take from your study?
A Failure to invest in telemedicine is downright foolish at this point. It has been around for a long time and has completely declined during the pandemic. It’s not going anywhere now since so many patients have experienced the convenience it offers.
It also means you’re making a mistake if you’re one of the healthcare organizations that have adopted telemedicine during the pandemic and plan to phase out those tools in the near future.
The bottom line is that telemedicine is a valuable tool for patients, and providers who offer remote care services for specific conditions and symptoms have an advantage over providers who don’t.
Q. Approximately 86% of patients rate their telemedicine experience as positive; 91% are more likely to choose a provider that offers telemedicine. Why do you think this is and what does it mean for healthcare organizations?
A Convenience and ease of use are the main reasons patients like telemedicine, and that certainly makes sense when you consider the time savings. Patients don’t have to drive to a physical office, find parking, spend time in a waiting room (where they may be exposed to other contagions), and drive home after the appointment is up.
All of this is tedious enough even without considering the fact that most people who go to a doctor don’t feel well, so their baseline before doing any of this is discomfort.
For providers, this means they see a great opportunity. We are all aware of the current shortage of healthcare professionals and we know that working conditions for healthcare workers have been particularly harsh during the pandemic.
When so many employees quit, there’s a lot of extra work left for those who stayed, leading to more burnout and even more turnover. However, if practices find a way to reduce this burden, they will improve the lives of their employees.
Telemedicine can achieve this by reducing mean examination time, nearly eliminating patient wait times, reducing mean no-shows, and saving money by lowering operational costs. All of these things can directly or indirectly affect the quality of life of healthcare professionals and patients.
Q. Only 49% prefer telemedicine visits for mental health treatment despite it being one of the remote treatments. What does this finding say for the future of telepsychiatry?
A This is a big question that puzzles many people. Mental health care appears to be an ideal complement to telemedicine, particularly the use of video conferencing to conduct therapy sessions. So I was a bit surprised that more patients in our survey didn’t indicate a preference for telemedicine.
But here are a few things to consider.
First, we did not collect patient history data, so not every participant in our survey has experience seeking mental health treatment. That could be a factor in this data set.
Second, when we asked this question, 19% said they had no preference between telemedicine and in-person appointments for mental health care, meaning only 32% preferred in-person appointments for mental health care. So, the majority of patients still say that telemedicine is their preferred mental health care option.
What this means for the future of teletherapy I don’t think is a big problem. It might just be that some patients still warm to the idea of having intimate conversations with a therapist through a computer screen. It could be an age thing. It could be something else.
Regardless, I suspect that if we did this survey annually for the next few years, that 49% would increase each time.
Q. One-third of patients worry that an in-person exam, lab work, or other test is critical to properly diagnosing and treating patients. How can telemedicine overcome this hurdle?
A. I’m not convinced that telemedicine needs to overcome this hurdle to be of any value. Sure, there are incredible advances in remote patient monitoring tools and other wearable devices that can diagnose patients remotely, but I think it’s equally worth noting that telemedicine is a tool that needs to be used in the right circumstances — it is not a one-size-fits-all approach in medicine.
Yes, many medical conditions require doctors to actually see the patient in order to perform physical tests. These situations aren’t ideal for telemedicine, and we shouldn’t see them as hurdles—or even failures.
If instead we reframe our thinking to recognize the situations that are ideal for telemedicine appointments — ones that don’t require physical tests to diagnose, such a profoundly valuable tool by the looks of it.
To answer your question, the real hurdle for telemedicine here is teaching patients when it’s best used, rather than having to find ways to perform lab work or physical exams remotely. Essentially: it’s a messaging issue, not a technology issue.
The good news is that patients seem to recognize this themselves. When you look at patient preferences for in-person vs. telemedicine appointments broken down by symptoms in our report, you see that patients intuitively understand which symptoms are best managed remotely and which require more physical exams.