Telehealth use will survive pandemic for healthcare providers, survey finds

Physicians will retain virtual care models post-pandemic; many have filled gaps in access to mental health care

Healthcare providers anticipate patient access to virtual care that will survive the pandemic, according to an Optum survey released today. Although most providers said they appreciate the convenience that telehealth offers them and their patients, there is also room for improvement.

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves in communities, many providers are wondering if and how to continue offering virtual care. The vast majority of respondents (93%) will continue to use telehealth after the pandemic, according to the survey of 240 providers.

Patient access increases with telehealth

The United States faces a widespread shortage of mental health clinicians: according to the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), more than 6,500 more mental health clinicians are needed. Primary care physicians can use telehealth to help bridge this gap. Three-quarters of survey respondents are primary care physicians, and nearly a third of all providers said they have used virtual care to provide mental health support.

When asked what types of patient care they provide via telehealth, providers responded:

  • Conduct primary care visits (75%)

  • Perform chronic care visits (72%)

  • Order prescription refills (64%)

  • Perform COVID-19 screenings (39%)

  • Make urgent care visits (38%)

  • Dealing with mental health issues (36%)

  • Follow up after surgery or surgery (28%)

Clinicians share their virtual channel preferences

Among the various telehealth tools, real-time communication channels predominated: video visits at 88% and telephone visits at 80%. Asynchronous channels have lagged: secure messaging at 30%, email at 12%, and text messaging at 7%. Chatbots attracted 3%.

Looking at how patients prefer to schedule virtual visits, providers still see a strong preference for traditional scheduling over the phone (86%), followed by online (51%) and in-person (26%).

Telehealth cited for convenience, frustrations

Providers believe that ease of use dominates the many benefits of telehealth for patients:

  • Convenience (90%)

  • Easier to find a meeting time (52%)

  • Connect to the appointment at home (47%)

  • Follow-up after appointment (15%)

  • Online planning (12%)

Looking inward, providers saw similar value for themselves in telehealth. When asked how they would describe telehealth, the majority of respondents (69%) used the word practical. Another 28% described virtual care as frustrating.

Although these descriptors may seem contradictory, providers provided some insight into their thinking. The top reasons providers felt frustrated were the quality of care they can provide (58%), managing patient expectations for their virtual visit (55%), and the technicalities of navigating through telehealth (50%).

Technology experience in telehealth shows room for growth

The pandemic has revealed opportunities to improve the patient experience and the scale of virtual care offerings. For many providers, optimizing their telehealth technology can be a good starting point.

Although 64% of providers surveyed said they were somewhat or extremely satisfied with their telehealth technology, they identified several areas of improvement for the patient and clinician experience.

Most healthcare organizations embraced virtual care as recently as the onset of the pandemic, so the technical knowledge required still presents a high barrier to entry for patients and even some providers. The top two priorities for providers to improve telehealth, taken together, call for bridging the digital divide. Providers saw the #1 priority as providing telehealth training to less digitally savvy patients. Continuing education in telehealth for clinicians and their staff ranks second.

“The innovations used over the past two years and the convenience they have brought to providers and patients should not be left behind,” said Puneet Maheshwari, co-founder and CEO of DocASAP at Optum. “As we slowly emerge from the pandemic, going back to how we were before the pandemic should not be the norm. Telehealth has proven to be a valuable and convenient asset for patients accessing care, so vendors and technology vendors must continue to improve on the technology itself as well as the virtual care processes.”

DocASAP, part of Optum, is a patient access and engagement platform for health systems, health plans, and physician groups. These technology services enable organizations to connect patients to the optimal care provider and setting at the right time throughout their access journey, helping to improve outcomes, reduce costs and create a better experience. for the patient.

To learn more, visit Optum.com for a report on the Provider Telehealth Usage and Experience Survey.

Survey methodology

Commissioned by Optum, the Provider Telehealth Usage and Experience Survey was conducted using Qualtrics software between October 25 and November 2, 2021. Feedback was obtained from 240 providers from health care with various roles: 75% primary care, 18% specialized care, 4% urgent care and 2% other. Qualtrics and all other Qualtrics product or service names are registered trademarks or trademarks of Qualtrics, Provo, Utah. https://www.qualtrics.com.

About Optum

Optum is a leading information and technology-based healthcare services company dedicated to making healthcare work better for everyone. With more than 210,000 people worldwide, Optum provides smart, integrated solutions that help modernize the healthcare system and improve the overall health of the population. Optum is part of the UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH). For more information, visit www.Optum.com.

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