SPH Analytics National Study on Patient Experience with Telehealth Finds Significant Shift in Attitudes/Behaviors During Height of Pandemic

June 22, 2020 Editor

Peaked consumer interest in telehealth wanes as time goes on

The COVID-19 pandemic has set the stage for massive changes in healthcare delivery, and telehealth is seeing its limelight. A May 2020 Frost & Sullivan survey predicts a sevenfold growth in telehealth services by 2025, indicating that people are more receptive than ever to using phone and Internet services to receive care.   

SPH Analytics, a leader in healthcare quality, experience analytics and patient engagement, surveyed consumers regarding their level of engagement with their healthcare just prior to the World Health Organization declaration of the Coronavirus pandemic on March 11 and continued post declaration through June 17.  The survey began just as the virus emerged in the United States[1] and spanned to also cover the early stages of states’ reopening.  Results of patients’ reception to, willingness for and actual usage of virtual provider visits highlight the opportunities for providers and health plans alike to meet new consumer demands while simultaneously improving their quality and experience metrics.

Comparing over 500 responses from consumers nationwide, results show significant changes in their attitudes and behaviors pre-pandemic to the period once the pandemic was declared:

  • Increased telehealth visits. Pre-pandemic, only 11% of respondents said they had had a virtual visit. Once the pandemic was declared, the percentage increased to 14%.  By the middle of June, 33% of consumers surveyed said they had participated in a telehealth visit, an increase of over 200% in the span of just a few months.
  • Higher reception to virtual care during a crisis. Pre-pandemic, only 7.6% of respondents were extremely interested in receiving virtual care from their primary doctor. Once the pandemic was declared, the percentage doubled to 15% who were extremely interested in receiving virtual care from their primary doctor. By May, the percentage of strong supporters of telehealth has dropped to 9% as the economy started to re-open and in-person doctor visits became available again, and in mid-June only 6% of consumers were still extremely interested in virtual care.  The percentage of respondents who were very interested in telehealth remained at 12% from March through May but has increased to 20% in June.
  • Virtual care is much more popular with a familiar face.  26% of respondents in mid-June say they are extremely interested or very interested in receiving virtual care from their personal physician.  However, when asked if they would consider a virtual visit with doctors from a leading medical provider that did not include their personal physician, only 11% of consumers showed interest in virtual care from an unfamiliar provider.
  • Willingness to wait varies with the circumstances.  When asked to choose between waiting several days to see their own doctor or seeing a new doctor quicker via a virtual visit, consumers were evenly split between waiting for their doctor or trying a virtual visit prior to the pandemic declaration. This number sharply increased shortly after the pandemic declaration, as 64% of respondents opted to choose a virtual visit with a new doctor over waiting several days to see their personal doctor.  By mid-June, the percentage of consumers who preferred virtual care from a new doctor declined, but remained ahead of pre-pandemic levels (57% vs. 50%).
  • Walk-in clinics are still the preferred alternative to virtual care, but recent research indicates that preference for a virtual visit is gaining momentum.  Prior to the pandemic, only 25% of consumers said they would prefer a virtual visit over going to a walk-in clinic for a high fever or other medical problem that needed treatment.  Immediately after the pandemic declaration, the percentage of consumers who said they would prefer a virtual visit over a walk-in clinic spiked to 40%, but that proportion has dropped back somewhat (33%) in mid-June.
  • The pandemic has led to greater appreciation of virtual care over emergency rooms for non-emergency care.  Prior to the pandemic, 46% of consumers chose a virtual visit with a new doctor over going to an emergency room.  In the weeks after the pandemic was declared, 60% favored a virtual visit over an emergency room visit.  As of mid-June, 58% of consumers preferred a virtual visit over an emergency room.

“This research indicates that amidst the pandemic, consumers rapidly changed their attitudes and behaviors,” said Amy Amick, President and CEO of SPH Analytics. “The emergence of the pandemic drove a remarkable and rapid shift to consumer perceptions, reflecting a far higher receptivity to virtual care models; however, as time has passed, some consumer mindsets are returning to close to pre-pandemic perspectives on virtual care.  For providers and payers who want to influence consumer receptivity to virtual care, and seek to take advantage of this growing care venue, it is critical to quickly understand consumer sentiment, consumer needs and the opportunity at hand, and to proactively change consumer engagement and operating models to best leverage this market opportunity.” 

Continued Amick, “Furthermore, the emergence of telehealth has the opportunity to virtually overnight become a very real driver in patient/member overall satisfaction, and as a result, can have material impact on the financial equation for the provider and health plan.  For instance, how will a member’s experience with telehealth impact their CAHPS feedback?  How can telehealth models help close gaps in care, and how can we prevent telehealth from creating gaps in care?  Our intent is to provide our clients with deep insight into their patient or member population, no matter which care venue the patient leverages, to enable that client to drive exceptional patient and member experience and engagement and strong health outcomes.”

SPH Analytics has deep expertise in both quantitative and qualitative research that enables health plans and providers to understand the patient or member experience, as well as patient engagement solutions that can close care gaps through patient education and appointment setting.

For more information about SPH Analytics and patient engagement and experience solutions, visit SPHAnalytics.com.

About SPH Analytics

SPH Analytics (SPH), a leader in healthcare analytics and population health management, empowers clients to analyze and interpret their clinical, financial, and consumer experience data to maximize their performance. SPH’s Population Care™, Population Value™, and Population Engage™ solutions are built on the innovative Nexus™ Platform, providing insights and impact to integrated health networks, ACOs, hospitals, ambulatory care providers, physician groups, and health plans. SPH’s quality measure dashboards, financial risk measurement, healthcare survey and patient outreach solutions, and consulting services empower clients to meet the Triple Aim by improving population health, reducing overall cost of care, and improving the patient experience.

SPH Analytics is a recognized leader in the industry, earning accolades as a top ranked population health vendor by KLAS, top-ranked satisfaction measurement firm in the health plan market by Modern Healthcare, and ranked number one in MACRA and MIPS Support Technology for Value-Based Care by Black Book Research. SPH Analytics has been providing insights to clients for more than 35 years and serves clients in all 50 states.  Corporate headquarters are in metro Atlanta. SPH Analytics is a portfolio company of the $3 billion STG Partners. For more information, call 1-866-460-5681 or visit SPHAnalytics.com.


[1] https://www.nytimes.com/article/coronavirus-timeline.html

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