Telemedicine preference may be waning

Two possible explanations for declining contentment with live video calls as a form of care delivery.

Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, patients’ initial satisfaction with some forms of telemedicine is starting to wane, a new survey finds.

The survey by Rock Health, a health care advisory, investment and research firm, is part of an ongoing study of consumers’ use of telemedicine and attitudes towards it. It found that in 2021 43% of respondents were satisfied with the care they received via live video calls—the most widely-used form of telemedicine this year--compared to prior in-person care interactions. In 2020 53% of 2020’s respondents said they were satisfied with live video calls as a form of care.

Satisfaction with health apps/websites and text messaging declined, although by lesser margins than live video calls. On the other hand, satisfaction with live phone calls and picture/video modalities rose, the latter from 41% to 54%. Satisfaction with email was unchanged.

The authors offer two possible explanations for declining contentment with live video calls as a form of care delivery. The first is that the sense of satisfaction patients felt for having any form of health care during much of 2020, when in-person visits weren’t possible, has faded in 2021. They note that a similar trend has occurred among physicians, 58% of whom view telehealth more positively now than before the pandemic, compared to 64% of those surveyed in 2020.

A second possibility lies in the changing nature of why people used telemedicine. In 2020 the largest category of users of live video calls among survey respondents—33%--were people with a medical emergency. Among that group, 77% reported higher levels of satisfaction with virtual interactions than with in-person care.

In 2021, however, the single biggest use for live video telemedicine (32% of survey respondents) was for minor illnesses, and only 37% of those users reported greater satisfaction compared to in-person care. In short, the authors say, “satisfaction with telemedicine as a convenient alternative may be lower than telemedicine as a necessary access point.”

The survey also found less telemedicine use among respondents identifying as white-only than other racial and ethnic groups. In 2021 70% of white-only respondents said they used telemedicine, compared to 87% of Hawaiian Native and/or Pacific Islander respondents, 79% among both Black and American Indian and/or Alaska native respondents, 78% of Asians and 73% of Hispanics.

The authors acknowledge that since the survey was conducted in English via computer, Black and Hispanic adults may be underrepresented since they are less likely than white adults to own a desktop or laptop computer or have home high-speed internet. Even so, they say, their findings are consistent with results of a 2020 Pew study showing that Black, Hispanic and other non-white adults were more likely to use telemedicine than were white adults.

The study, “Consumer adoption of telemedicine in 2021,” is available on the website of RockHealth.org

This article was originally published by sister publication Medical Economics.