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Rising Telehealth: How COVID-19 Accelerated Adoption and Utilization

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed many elements of our healthcare system. As the market has adapted, it’s clear telehealth is here to stay. It’s no surprise patients have looked for other care options during the pandemic, especially given the majority (59%) have chosen to defer non-COVID-related appointments due to risk of viral spread, stay-at-home orders and other factors.

For many, telehealth options are logical. They give patients a way to stay up to date on care, reduce the need to seek in-person options, and potentially provide more transparency on costs and payment responsibility. While providers and payers still need to come to agreement for the long term from a reimbursement, payment and intensity of care perspective, many patients will continue to seek telehealth offerings over brick-and-mortar options.

Our 2020 patient survey revealed in the last 12 months, 33% of patients used telehealth, and 59% report choosing this option because of COVID-19. Of those using these services due to the pandemic, Millennials and Gen X were the highest use cases, at 62% and 61%, respectively. This survey also shows how telehealth options can enhance the patient financial experience. The majority (62%) of those using telehealth said the billing experience was straightforward. This is significant since 48% of respondents have partial to no understanding of their financial responsibility when using other services.

In a recent follow-up survey of those who have used telehealth services, we found patients:

  • Utilize telehealth services over other care options. More than half (60%) used telehealth instead of visiting their primary care physician, 11% chose these services over going to an urgent care facility, and 8% chose them in place of the emergency department.

  • Plan to continue using these services after the pandemic. Over two-thirds (67%) would be at least somewhat likely to continue using this option once a COVID-19 vaccine is available and distributed.

  • Content with quality of care. Per results, 71% said the quality of virtual care was the same or better than in-person care, and 77% expressed satisfaction with their most recent telehealth visit.

These patient trends indicate providers and payers can tap into opportunities stemming from the rising interest in telehealth offerings, including:

  • More successful patient outreach in their communities. This may help provide enhanced access to vulnerable populations and increased participation in healthcare services.

  • Using technology to help patients increase their understanding and control of healthcare costs, and engaging them in customized payment options. This option also involves less cost and an opportunity to see more patients. Many health systems have transformed telehealth into a revenue stream — and business is booming.

  • Helping steer patients to the right level of care. It affords an initial contact — a triage if you will — where the provider can intervene or direct to the most appropriate care setting. This could be a phone call, a follow-up visit, or directions to come to their office, urgent care, or at worst, the emergency department. This dialogue has been mostly absent thus far in modern medicine, but COVID-19 has forced the change. When providers talk to patients about where and when to seek care in advance, that’s patient-centered care.

For further insights on how COVID-19 is impacting the healthcare industry, visit our hub page.


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