The pandemic has permanently changed care delivery in many ways. Telehealth, a small part of the mix before COVID-19, became essential as the virus forced shutdowns and limited face-to-face interactions. But the reopening of doctors’ offices revealed something: Many patients like telehealth and want to retain the flexibility to remotely see physicians. And that emerging preference necessitates a shift in the way point-of-care resources are delivered.
Phreesia generated insights into the future of telehealth by surveying nearly 2,000 patients as they checked in for their doctors’ appointments in August and September 2022. The survey revealed patients’ enduring positive sentiment around telehealth appointments and showed four ways the medium continues to transform the point of care.
1. Telehealth use remains higher than it was before the pandemic
Predictably, telehealth’s share of all medical appointments has fallen from its pandemic-driven peak, but unlike some of the changes that defined 2020, it has remained relevant as the crisis has eased. More than one-third (36%) of surveyed patients reported having had a virtual healthcare visit in the past six months. And most (84%) of those patients said they are at least somewhat likely to have a virtual healthcare visit in the coming year.
“Even as things stabilized and in-person visits began to climb back to pre-pandemic levels, telehealth visits have remained an important part of the care journey, which showed a shift in the traditional paradigm,” notes Tim Noone, Senior Vice President Media at CMI Media Group.
He adds that, while some conditions will likely always require in-person consultation, virtual visits are viable for many diagnoses and routine checkups, “leading to more frequent health monitoring and improved patient adherence,” he says.
2. Many patients expect to keep using telehealth
The persistence of telehealth’s post-pandemic popularity reflects many patients’ preference for virtual visits for some types of appointments. As Noone explains, what was initially a pandemic-enforced requirement became more of a preference for patients. He notes telehealth’s accessibility and timeliness, pointing out that virtual visits help remove the travel burden many patients face in going to see their doctor, while simultaneously cutting typical in-person wait times.
Patient comfort is another key factor. “The ability to connect with the provider from home removes patient anxiety related to health concerns during rises in COVID or influenza cases, and it’s created a safe space for those seeking mental-health counseling,” Noone explains.
His comments are supported by Phreesia’s survey data. When asked why they expected to schedule a virtual care visit in the future, patients cited flexibility, the elimination of travel time and the speed of arranging telehealth appointments as their top three motivators, ranking greater comfort discussing health issues with their doctor as their fourth most-common reason for planning a future telehealth appointment. The survey also found that more than 70% of recent telehealth users feel very or extremely comfortable asking for a new prescription or bringing up a new health issue during a virtual visit.
3. Expanding the point of care changes campaigns
The emergence of telehealth as a significant, ongoing player in care delivery requires an industry response. In telehealth interactions, the point of care moves from the doctor’s office to the virtual realm, which means that patients won’t necessarily see materials that only appear in physical office waiting rooms.
Expanding to reach patients in what Noone calls “the pivotal moments leading up to consultation” can help ensure that campaigns still hit their mark. Previously, those pivotal moments only happened in the clinician’s office, but now they also happen online. In both settings, the moments are a final, critical opportunity to shape the patient-provider conversation.
“I really think this ‘nudge’ is what may empower patients to inquire about a new treatment option or to switch [treatments],” Noone says. “Whether that’s an extension of general-market consumer messaging, or a quick informative callout around efficacy or safety or savings, that could really be the last touch that’s needed to facilitate that discussion and drive a positive outcome.”
4. Virtual appointments unlock new opportunities
The shift from physical to digital care settings opens up new messaging and patient-education possibilities. Noone cites successful examples of actioning telehealth visits off brand websites, and in the process, removing barriers to their inquiries into potentially relevant medications. That approach can facilitate patient-physician conversations based on what patients learn about their condition or treatment through virtual campaigns.
In addition, telehealth campaign measurement has improved significantly, Noone notes, and having data to back up the spend has spurred additional investment. Those revamped capabilities have helped realize telehealth’s impact, providing confidence in a previously untested medium.
“Before, it was a little uncertain how performance would pan out, as it was essentially a new channel for promotional purposes,” Noone says. “But at this point in time, [measurement] is more sophisticated, and you’re really able to understand that return on investment.”
Find out how Phreesia Life Sciences’ digital engagement platform can help you reach more patients with education and support resources before, during and after their telehealth appointments.
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