More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, a majority of American adults are open to using telehealth for their routine care. The recent Consumer Telehealth Attitudes and Usage Study from MDLIVE found a willingness to utilize virtual care services in all age groups, including people 65 and older – traditionally the population slowest to take advantage of virtual care options.
MDLIVE, Evernorth’s 24/7 virtual care delivery platform, surveyed 1,500 consumers age 18 and older in June to learn more about how they think about and plan to use virtual care. The survey was a follow-up to a survey the company conducted in late May and early June 2020, roughly three months into the pandemic.
More satisfaction, lower costs
Some findings were unexpected. For example, 57% indicated that the availability of telehealth options would be a factor in selecting a health plan. Additionally, consumers who reported having used their telehealth benefits reported much higher satisfaction with their health plans.
In addition, consumers increasingly understand that telehealth can deliver cost savings – 46% indicated that using telehealth helped them reduce their spending on health care.
We found that 80% of those who have used telehealth services subsequently increased their expectations of what virtual care can provide. Even after the pandemic ends, 88% expect to use telehealth at the same level or more frequently.
Saving time and convenience are the top reasons these consumers cited for using telehealth, particularly the ability to avoid commutes and doctors’ waiting rooms. These factors were especially important to people in the workforce and those with ongoing health care needs.
Also interesting was the broad definition consumers attached to routine care, which for them included annual checkups, prescription renewals, regular labs and vital sign checks, chronic condition management, and treatment for common infections and non-urgent issues, such as urinary tract infections and strep.
Making primary care accessible
This willingness to utilize virtual care is key, because 35% of American adults under age 50 lack a primary care physician, while an estimated 150 million adults skip or forgo an annual check-up. At the same time, they may have trouble finding a primary care physician, with limited availability from existing providers and an estimated shortage of as many as 55,000 primary care physicians by 2033.
The new survey shows that telehealth has become a more viable option for checkups and referral needs, especially for patients who don’t have a relationship with a primary care physician. The majority of respondents who reported they did not have a primary care physician anticipated needing primary care services in the coming 12 months and were open to telehealth for getting the care they needed.
Closing gaps in primary, preventive care is a cornerstone strategy in supporting patients, improving outcomes and reducing costs. By providing multiple options for accessing routine care services and expanding the services members can access through telehealth, plans can enable better outcomes now and in the future.
Next steps for health plans
The results of the survey illuminate these opportunities:
With a broader range of telehealth services available and consumers open to using them, it’s more important than ever for plans to communicate member benefits clearly.
This might be a good time revisit the plan's telehealth offering to ensure all bases are covered. Providing multiple options for accessing primary care services could help to break down some of the barriers of getting members to seek important preventive and routine care.
- As more consumers consider telehealth options as a key factor in plan selection and satisfaction, traditional messaging focused on individual services, such as urgent care, should give way to a more balanced approach focusing on total care, including behavioral health and routine visits that can be accomplished virtually.