Telehealth: The Welcome Disruption

Six surveys show that executives, providers and consumers alike want telehealth to keep changing healthcare.

Telehealth and telemedicine are major disruptors in the current healthcare market. Vendors and investors have considerable incentive to focus on refining and expanding telehealth services, with the expectation that patients and providers will embrace these technologies. But what do the numbers say? Read on for a roundup of recent telehealth surveys.

These recent surveys provide market insight and explore the attitudes of major telehealth stakeholders, particularly consumers and healthcare providers. Though informal and nonclinical, this type of research is valuable, as it gauges the levels of interest, adoption, and openness among those who will use existing and emerging telehealth products.

Below is an overview of key findings and insights from six telehealth surveys. The survey data indicates a trend toward increased interest in and adoption of telehealth technologies across stakeholder groups.

  1. Healthcare executives plan to invest in telehealth. The American Telehealth Association (ATA) Executive Leadership Survey, which polled 171 healthcare executives representing telehealth providers, healthcare providers, and hospital systems, identified several key trends in telehealth. The survey’s findings include:
    • 83% of respondents are likely to invest in telehealth this year
    • 88% of respondents plan to invest in technology related to telehealth this year
    • 98% of leaders think telehealth services create a competitive advantage, while 84% believe that telehealth services strongly expand an organization’s coverage and reach
  • Healthcare providers want to change their use of telehealth technology. A national telehealth survey by Avizia, Closing the Telehealth Gap (summarized here by HIT Consultant), polled over 280 U.S. healthcare leaders and revealed a significant gap between how healthcare providers currently use telehealth technology and how they want to use that technology in the future. The survey report shows that:
    • 72% of hospitals are currently using telehealth, versus 52% of physician groups/clinics
    • The current most popular use of telehealth is via a computer workstation on wheels or “tablet on a stick,” but the most popular projected/desired use involves video visits through the EHR/EMR
    • Executives also expressed interest in pursuing greater future use of mobile apps, specialized telemedicine technologies such as cameras or scopes, and mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones
  1. Consumers want to use telehealth services. American Well’s Telehealth Index: 2017 Consumer Survey compiles the results of two Harris Poll online studies among over 4,000 adults. According to the survey findings:
    •    65% of consumers are interested in seeing their primary care physician (PCP) over video
    •    60% of respondents are willing to see a doctor online for help managing a chronic condition
    •    52% of adults are willing to use video or online visits for post-surgical or hospital stay follow-up
    •    20% of Americans would use telehealth (rather than the ER) for middle-of-the-night care
    •    20% of consumers— equating to 50 million people—would switch providers to one that providers telehealth
  1. Consumers show high levels of adoption and satisfaction with telemedicine. Rock Health’s summary of its 2016 Digital Health Consumer Adoption Survey, a nationally-representative survey of over 4,000 people, noted several key findings:
    •    Video-based telemedicine adoption more than tripled from 2015-2016, growing from 7% to 22%
    •    Across all telemedicine platforms, satisfaction rates are above 75%
    •    Live video is the telemedicine medium with the highest satisfaction rate, with 83% of users moderately or extremely satisfied
    •    Self-pay telemedicine users, who account for 30% of telemedicine visits, are the most satisfied across the board
    •    The most popular types of telemedicine are telephone (59%), email (41%), and SMS (29%)
  1. Consumer demand for telehealth persists even in the face of confusion. A joint survey conducted by the American Telemedicine Association and WEGO Health polled 429 respondents about their use of video conferencing to interact with healthcare providers. Though only 22% of respondents had used telehealth to meet with a provider, 78% reported that they thought telehealth visits would be more convenient and indicated they would be motivated to choose virtual visits over in-person care. This high interest level exists despite confusion about availability of telehealth options, insurance coverage, and payment information.
  2. Parents are in favor of using telehealth for their children. A survey by Nemours Children’s Hospital System, released in April 2017, showed that 64% of parents polled have used or plan to use telemedicine within the next year for their children. Among parents who have tried online doctor visits for their children, 97.5% rated the experience as equal to or better than an in-office visit.

Healthcare providers and consumers have demonstrated a keen interest in using telehealth technologies of various types and formats. Even those who have not yet begun to use telemedicine show openness to the technology and faith in its potential for convenience and ease of use. The significant growth in the past two years alone suggests that the telehealth space is ripe for continued expansion and innovation. For health IT professionals, the intersection of digital health, care delivery, and technological innovation makes telemedicine a market segment to monitor now and in the future.