For many, 2020 was a year to forget. But there were a few silver linings, including a sharp increase in public awareness and acceptance of telemedicine. Prior to the pandemic, only 11% of patients were comfortable with telemedicine−now 76% are. Will widespread telemedicine adoption continue after the pandemic is over? This two-part article examines some key drivers behind telemedicine usage in 2020 and what that means for the future.
According to a J.D. Power survey, telehealth services received the highest customer satisfaction score of all healthcare, insurance and financial industry surveys conducted. 60% of patients who used virtual care tools during the pandemic have expressed a desire to use them again in the future. Patient surveys cite convenience, comfort and avoiding the risk of contagion at healthcare facilities as reasons to continue accessing remote care.
For doctors, telemedicine offered a significant benefit for physician’s practices that may have closed during the pandemic as patients delayed or deferred care. Providers face some uncertainty when it comes to virtual care reimbursement as regulatory agencies and insurers may cease or reduce payments after the public health emergency is over, but many providers have already switched to value-based care models that base reimbursement on health outcomes, not fee for service. Because remote care reduces costs by eliminating the need for brick and mortar and allows technology to shoulder some of the burden of data collection, virtual care should always cost less than in-person healthcare.
About 80% of large employers recently surveyed by the Business Group on Health said they believe telehealth will play a significant role in how care is delivered in the future, compared with 64% in 2019 and 52% in 2018. 52% of large employers also reported that they will offer even more virtual health benefits in 2021. With more employers reporting that their main concern is the health and wellbeing of their workforce and 63% of employees expecting employers to do more to address their physical and mental wellness concerns, leveraging virtual care solutions—especially to connect individuals to much-needed mental health resources—will likely continue.
People Seeking Help with Behavioral Health Issues
Chronic illness and behavioral health appointments drove the largest increases in telemedicine utilization during the pandemic according to the Journal of Medical Internet Research. While the stress of isolation and other factors related to COVID-19 may have driven the initial surge, the need for mental health services will likely continue. 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year and finding an in-network, affordable mental health provider—even in urban areas—can be challenging. Virtual mental health solutions reduce the complexity of locating a provider and some platforms can connect people to a licensed mental health care worker within a day.
According to 2020 data, 62% of patients would prefer a virtual mental health visit to an in-person visit even once it is safe to resume in-person visits. In 2020 there was also an increase in men, Medicaid beneficiaries and patients over 65 seeking virtual mental health visits—groups not generally known for embracing mental health services. These trends clearly reflect the incredible stress that the pandemic put on people’s mental health but may also reflect an appreciation for the highly-confidential, in-home patient experience a virtual mental health visit can provide.
In part 2, we’ll explore other influential players that drove demand for virtual care and may have lasting impacts on its continued adoption.