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Strong Patient Demand for Telehealth Motivated by Convenience

Patients are just as likely to ask for telehealth as providers are to offer it, according to a new survey released at the ATA Fall Forum last week.

- The convenience factor is a major driver for patients investigating the use of telehealth to consult with their providers, according to a survey by the American Telemedicine Association and WEGO Health. 

Telehealth and patient convenience

The poll of 429 patients, conducted at the ATA’s Fall Forum Event in New Orleans, found that 22 percent of participants had used a video conferencing tool to communicate with their healthcare provider.  While half of those users said that their provider had offered a telehealth option to them, the other 50 percent had actively requested a remote consult with their clinician.

Patients engaged in between one and four telehealth consults during the prior 12 months, and did not believe that the quality of a remote consult differed significantly from an in-person visit.

“Clearly consumers are not only becoming aware of telemedicine but starting to demand access to it,” said Jonathan D. Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association.  “It is becoming a part of the standard of care that should be made available throughout the country.”

A majority of the 78 percent of patients who did not participate in a telehealth consult believed that remote care could be more convenient if offered, the survey added.  Easier scheduling, less travel time, and improved access to care for homebound patients are among the attractions of telehealth interactions, and may motivate patients to choose video consults over a traditional office visit.

However, many respondents were still confused about whether or not telehealth was on offer from their providers, or if the service would be covered by their insurer. 

While many states are starting to provide Medicaid reimbursement for remote care services, private payers and Medicare have been slower to embrace the trend. 

Primary care providers may be particularly reticent to offer telehealth services due to the complicated payment landscape, says a separate survey from the American Academy of Family Physicians.  Only 15 percent of providers participating in the poll – conducted in 2014 but published in 2016 – used telehealth during the previous year.

Payment reforms that encourage the growth of telehealth are a top priority for the ATA and other digital health organizations, leaders stated at the forum last week.  The upcoming MACRA framework, along with growing patient demand and the availability of new technologies that make remote care easier, will likely encourage payers, vendors, and regulators to better integrate telehealth into the care continuum. 

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