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Telemedicine Still Isn’t Winning Hearts and Minds

A new survey finds those using telemedicine like the platform for its cost and convenience - but many more aren't using it or don't even know it exists.

By Eric Wicklund

- More than half of the respondents in a new survey say they wouldn’t use telemedicine, either because they don’t trust the technology or they prefer an in-person visit. Yet more than 90 percent of those who have used telemedicine say it has reduced their healthcare costs.

The disparity in the responses to the March 2016 survey of 500 insured consumers, conducted by Dallas-based HealthMine, indicates a majority of the public still doesn’t understand what telemedicine is or what it can do. In fact, 39 percent of those surveyed said they hadn’t even heard of telemedicine.

Of those who aren’t using telemedicine, 14 percent said they don’t trust a virtual provider to make the right diagnosis or treatment plan, while 42 percent say they prefer to see a traditional provider. Another 28 percent said they don’t know when it’s appropriate to use telemedicine, and 14 percent said they aren’t sure their health plan offers it.

Bryce Williams, HealthMine’s CEO and president, said education may very well be the key to telemedicine’s widespread adoption.

“Telehealth will find its place in the health services market as did urgent care centers,” he said. “Health plan sponsors can play a significant role in educating their members about optimal options for treatment.”

The HealthMine survey also identifies an issue with access. While some 14 percent of those surveyed said they didn’t know if their health plan offers telemedicine as an option, only one-third of those responding said their health plans do offer the service.

That percentage is changing, as more health plans and commercial payers warm to the virtual platform. Just recently, Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama and Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina have all begun offering telemedicine. More than half of the states have now mandated that private insurers treat telemedicine as an equal to in-person health care.

Insurers “(have) begun to see the financial value in making these offerings available,” Nathaniel Lacktman, an attorney with the global firm of Foley & Lardner LLP and an expert in the field, recently told Business Insurance.

When asked when they would consider using telemedicine, the responses were many and varied – an indication of how far the platform could go if consumers were open to using it. Some 44 percent said they’d consider the platform for follow-up care for an acute illness, symptom-tracking and diagnosis, or medication management and prescription renewal. Another 34 percent said they’d be open to using telemedicine for follow-up care for a chronic condition, while 31 percent would use it for remote monitoring of vital signs and 24 percent would use it for behavioral or mental health services.

Ironically, the survey flips the script on recent provider-facing surveys, which have indicated telemedicine holds the most potential in behavioral healthcare, remote patient monitoring and chronic care. Clearly, consumers have a different idea of what they want out of telemedicine than do their healthcare providers.


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