Survey: Consumers remain skeptical on telehealth citing insurance coverage uncertainty

The survey data suggests the wider adoption of services will require providers to better engage payers, doctors and patients with telehealth strategies.
By Dave Muoio
11:52 AM
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Telehealth adoption may be increasing with each year, but the majority of consumers still aren’t onboard with the technology in healthcare, according to a recent report backed by telehealth provider Avizia.

Nearly half of these consumers reported that they would be less comfortable during a telehealth visit in comparison to an in-person visit, and two-thirds said that they were unsure whether the services would be covered by their insurer. The minority of consumers who use telehealth said that they do so primarily for its convenience and shorter wait times.

“Hospitals and healthcare delivery systems have high adoption rates of telehealth,” the report’s authors wrote. "Patients, however, don’t generally know how to join the telehealth party. It’s not that they aren’t invited or don’t want to go — it’s that they don’t understand how to access telehealth or how it could be applied to their own care. … They don’t know how telehealth would affect their copays and deductibles and having never used it before, they are unsure when and how they should use it.

The report consists of data from two separate surveys, both conducted by an independent research company under commission. The consumer survey collected 403 responses from the general US population aged 18 years or older. The second polled Modern Healthcare subscribers and included 444 respondents whose organizations currently use telehealth or telemedicine. Both polls were conducted in March.

On the consumer side, 10 percent of respondents said that they had never heard of telehealth, 31 percent said that they prefer it to in-person visits, and 58 percent said that they had never received an opportunity to use it. Only 18 percent of these respondents said that they use telehealth, and only one in five could say for certain that their insurance covers telehealth. Forty-six percent said that they would find a video visit less comfortable, 18 percent said it would be more comfortable, and 35 percent said they would be equally comfortable.

“These results align with those of a survey by the American Telemedicine Association last year demonstrating that consumers want to use telehealth as a complement to face-to-face care, mainly for the sake of convenience, but they aren’t certain whether their provider offers telehealth or whether their insurer will pay for it,” the authors wrote. “This points to a significant patient disconnect that either insurers or providers — possibly both — need to ponder.”

For providers, telehealth’s potential to expand the reach of care was among the most prominent reasons to consider telehealth; 70 percent noted this strength as a reason to consider providing telehealth, with 55 percent citing better outcomes, 44 percent reduced costs, and 36 percent consumer demand. These respondents also saw stroke (72 percent), behavioral health (41 percent) and intensive care (20 percent) as the top three use cases for the technology, while viewing reimbursement (41 percent) program costs (40 percent) and provider resistance as the primary barriers. Of note, only 11 percent of these provider respondents said patient resistance was a major barrier to telehealth adoption, down from 15 percent of respondents in a similar survey conducted the previous year.

Compared to this and other past survey results, the survey data suggests that providers are gradually moving past previously identified barriers to telehealth adoption, the authors of the report wrote. Additional gains will require providers to better engage insurance carriers, physicians, and patients with telehealth strategies.

“This outreach to consumers could assume many forms,” they wrote. “Providers can invest in marketing campaigns that explain their telehealth services and the technology’s benefits. Signs, pamphlets, mail campaigns, or even a live demonstration could help introduce patients to the technology.”

A year in telehealth policy

In other telehealth news, the Center for Connected Health Policy has released its roundup of all the state telehealth legislation approved during 2017.

The list includes 46 bills affecting 33 states and the District of Columbia. Among these is a Texan bill that provides definitions of telehealth, telemedicine, and a practitioner-patient relationship for these services, as well as a West Virginian bill stating that individuals looking to provide telehealth services do not need to obtain a certificate of need or apply to the authority for approval.

The center’s full list of legislative changes can be found here.

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Telehealth