The COVID-19 pandemic stressed healthcare systems worldwide, propelling the first time use of telehealth for patients and providers alike. As we continue fighting this deadly new disease and race against time for a vaccine, it is expected that telehealth technologies are here to stay.
But as with any new technology, there are limitations, questions, and concerns. One top of mind question is can a virtual visit can offer the same quality and personal touch as an in-person visit?
To answer that question, let’s consider first what patients think about how personal their providers are during a traditional healthcare visit. According to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, many patients don’t think their provider consultations are personal at all. In fact, 64 percent of primary care providers (PCPs) and 80 percent of specialists didn’t bother to ask the patient why they came in – and when they did, most of them interrupted the patient after a median of 11 seconds.
Can you explain all your medical symptoms and questions to a doctor in 11 seconds?
Patients are often sharing deeply personal information and enter into the relationship trusting they will not only get excellent medical care but also get feedback that the doctor understands their unique needs.
Responsible patient care begins with providers finding out why their patients are seeking treatment – their problems and symptoms, their behaviors, self-care habits, and exceedingly more important, their social determinants of health, especially during the current pandemic.
Patient Acceptance of Telemedicine
In a recent study of 1800 patients by Doctor.com, 77% of patients had tried telemedicine before the pandemic and 83% expect to use telemedicine after the pandemic resolves. Convenience is cited as the number one reason for a patient’s willingness to try virtual care. Since telemedicine tends to be more efficient than in-person appointments, time-stressed patients who are also concerned about exposure to the virus, are highly motivated to take this path.
But what about the quality of care? Patients using telemedicine report they believe they will be more equipped to be compliant with care protocols:
- 93% report that they would use telemedicine to manage prescriptions
- 91% say that telemedicine would help them stick to appointments, manage prescriptions and refills, and follow wellness regimens as dictated by their doctor.
Beyond 11 Seconds
Does better patient compliance mean that a virtual care consultation offers a better patient-doctor bond or more meaningful visits? The answer is yes – for several reasons.
A Massachusetts General Hospital study found that patients reported strong personal connections with providers when using telehealth: 62 percent of patients said the quality of telehealth visits was just as good as in-person visits; 21 percent said it was even better. Lee Schwamm, MD, director of the MGH Center for Telehealth, said the findings confirm that “what patients value most is uninterrupted time with their doctor.”
Patients are often more relaxed and candid during a virtual health visit. They don’t have to miss work, deal with traffic and parking, or sit for thirty minutes in a waiting room. As a result, the patient comes to the telehealth visit in a better mood which makes them more open about their self-care habits. As Schwamm said, “Telehealth gives them more of what they want most and gets rid of the stuff they don’t want. With a telehealth visit, 95 percent of the time spent by the patient is face-to-face with the doctor, compared to less than 20 percent of a traditional visit, in which most time is spent traveling and waiting.”
Virtual health can also improve continuity of care. Provider collaboration, remote monitoring, and ongoing updates help a patient’s care team follow the narrative thread of their story regardless of where they are - fostering more consistent care and meaningful conversations.
As the pandemic continues to infect people across the country, our already burdened doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other workers at medical facilities, are faced with continued burnout. It has also put a spotlight on challenges in our healthcare system. In response, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services modified their policies to increase telehealth access and reimbursement. The goal is to offer providers more flexibility so they can see more patients virtually.
This means providers can more easily adopt a telemedicine program and continue to give patient’s focused attention without compromising quality.
Telemedicine can’t solve every healthcare challenge, but it can facilitate deeper patient relationships – and accelerate effective medicine.