Over the years, video-enabled telemedicine has been slow to gain traction. But with COVID-19 raging across the U.S., doctors and patients are quickly adopting telehealth tools, according to two new Ipsos surveys. As doctors use the services more, high levels of interest from patients – and high desire to repeat usage – shows that this could become a watershed moment for remote healthcare.
Prior to COVID-19, only 10% of health care providers had seen patients via telemedicine, per the first wave of a new Ipsos health care practitioner surveillance program. Now, 80% of providers report taking telemedicine visits due to the pandemic with 57% of patient visits happening not in-person. This wave of health provider interviews included 311 practitioners across eight specialties.
“It’s a great way for patients to meet with doctors without travel,” said one endocrinologist surveyed.
Coronavirus has shifted patient visits to telehealth
Historically, telemedicine has faced several barriers that have inhibited its adoption, says David Scowcroft, a senior vice president for Ipsos’ North American Healthcare service line. They range from the types of patient exams to payments and copays and communication materials to patient record compatibility. Finally, there is the issue of patient demand. “COVID-19 has accelerated the appeal of telemedicine among patients in the U.S. and if this continues then there will be motivation to continue to adopt the new technology,” says Scowcroft.
As communities promote social distancing guidelines, most practitioners have cut back their services to protect both workers and patients. On average, practitioners are seeing less than half as many patients per week now (46) than prior to the pandemic (102). And three-fourths (73%) have postponed non-urgent visits. Now, telemedicine visits are making up the bulk of those visits.
Patients are more interested in virtual appointments
At the same time, Ipsos consumer research shows that patients today are also much more open to using telemedicine with their providers. Moreover, patient attitudes point to the potential for telemedicine to continue to be used for provider visits in the future, if it’s made available to them. Nearly six in 10 people (58%) who said they hadn’t used telemedicine will try it if they can, according to a new Ipsos survey of 1,005 U.S. adults. That’s a 25% increase from two years ago when 46% of people said that.
Another one in five patients (18%) have used telemedicine and will use it again if they can. That’s up from 11% in 2018, when 10% of people on average worldwide reported using telemedicine, in a global Ipsos survey. But even the most skeptical patients are warming to the idea. The percent of people who would not try telemedicine fell by half to 11% in the new survey compared to 2018 (23%).
Limits today but potential to stick in the future
The big question that remains is whether telemedicine will retain its popularity when it’s not the only option. The high levels of consumer interest and more importantly the interest in repeating the experience by those who have used it seem to suggest that yes, it will. As long as the providers who are using it in this crisis warm to it as well. Doctors surveyed see its limits today: this tool is ideal for established chronic patients for regular check-ins, mental health concerns and those with transportation issues.
“Using it at this time is absolutely necessary, but overall it has limits,” says one primary care physician interviewed. Among them: you can’t do physical exams, which is particularly concerning for newly seen patients; there’s a lot of guessing; and lots of patients don’t have thermometers to get a sense of vitals. “But it’s good to take time to listen to patient complaints,” the doctor said.
Yet if patient demand persists, doctors might be forced to adapt. And they see other benefits as well. “I wouldn’t mind doing telehealth on the weekends as an additional source of income,” added the endocrinologist interviewed. “It has lots of promise.”