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Are Providers, Payers Putting Enough Into Telehealth Education?

A new survey from Avizia finds that healthcare providers are shifting their telehealth focus from meeting patient demand to meeting business goals, yet many patients haven't had the chance to try it and aren't sure what it's all about.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- New research finds that healthcare providers are turning to telehealth and telemedicine more and more to meet business goals, rather than consumer demand. At the same time, many consumers say they haven’t tried telehealth and don’t understand how it will help them.

The two surveys, conducted in March 2017 of providers and consumers by telehealth provider Avizia, highlight the continuing gap between high provider adoption and low patient engagement. And they suggest the provider and payer communities are forgetting about the patient as they move toward value-based care.

That disconnect is evident in the consumer survey, where only 18 percent of those surveyed said they had used the technology. Of those not using telehealth, just 10 percent said they’d never heard of it, while 58 percent said they haven’t had the opportunity to use it.

Two-thirds of the consumers surveyed, meanwhile, said they didn’t know if telehealth was covered by their insurance, and only 20 percent could positively say that such services were covered.

“This points to a significant patient disconnect that either insurers or providers — possibly both — need to ponder,” the report points out. “Providers that are keen to raise patient awareness and increase participation in telehealth may wish to consider some sort of joint patient education outreach with their leading managed-care partners.”

The survey also finds that consumers don’t know what to expect from telehealth. Of those not using telehealth, almost half said they would find a video visit less comfortable than an in-person visit, while 74 percent said they’d prefer an in-person psychiatry session to a telepsychiatry session.

“There appears to be a gap between what patients think their experience would be, and what it turns out to be once they try it,” the report concludes. “According to hospital system leaders we interviewed, patients actually like talking to a psychiatrist via videoconferencing once they give it a chance.”

That fits in with a question asking those who’d used telehealth to rate their experience. According to the survey, 62 percent rated the experience an 8, 9 or 10 on a scale of 1 to 10.

Healthcare providers, meanwhile, are adopting telehealth and telemedicine platforms at a strong rate, though for new reasons.

In Avizia’s 2016 survey, 72 percent said they were using the technology to meet consumer demand, yet only 36 percent made that point in this year’s survey. In contrast, 70 percent of providers are now using telehealth and telemedicine to expand access to care and reach more patients; only 40 percent cited that imperative last year.

"It’s possible healthcare decision-makers are shifting their strategies away from using telehealth to meet consumer demand,” the study points out. “Instead they are aligning the technology with their business objectives. In addition to preparing for a value-based care world, they’re leveraging its key benefits, using it to expand access to care and extend the reach of their providers to serve the increasing demand for care.”

The study suggests that healthcare providers and payers adopt new strategies to reach the 82 percent of consumers not yet using telehealth, focusing particularly on education. Providers need to explain how a virtual visit can equal or even improve upon the in-person visit. And both providers and payers have to adopt clearer protocols for explain what telehealth services are covered by insurance.

In other questions, providers cited reimbursement (41 percent), program costs (40 percent) and provider resistance (22 percent) as the top barriers to implementation of telehealth, while their top uses cases for telemedicine are stroke (72 percent, up from 37 percent in 2016), behavioral health (41 percent) and intensive care (20 percent).

“Health systems are investing in telehealth, even as uptick is slow among consumers, because they understand the potential of the technology to impact patient care in a profound way,” Mike Baird, Avizia’s CEO, said in an accompanying press release. “As technology advances and health system priorities shift, we expect to see a greater number of hospitals seeking new ways to leverage telehealth on a system-wide level to support the shift to value-based care.”


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