More Patients Use and Trust Telehealth: Report

A vast majority said they plan to continue using telemedicine even beyond the pandemic, according to a report from Doximity.

More patients are expressing confidence in telehealth and plan to continue virtual visits beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey.

Doximity, a digital healthcare company, surveyed 2,000 patients on their use and perspectives in its second “State of Telemedicine Report.” The report, released Feb. 16, showed substantial increases in patient comfort with telehealth in 2021, compared to 2020.

Roughly 3 in 4 patients (73%) said they plan to use telemedicine after the pandemic, up from 58% in 2020.

The study found 80% of patients with chronic illness would use telehealth beyond the pandemic, compared to 60% in 2020. Two out of three patients (67%) without chronic illness said they would continue to use telemedicine beyond the pandemic, up from 55% in 2020.

The survey also found similarly broad support among all racial groups in their plans to continue using telemedicine beyond the pandemic. Around three-quarters of Black, Latino and Asian participants all said they’d stick with telemedicine, the survey found.

More patients have used telehealth at least once in the past year. Two out of three respondents (67%) said they participated in a telehealth visit at least once annually in 2021, compared to 42% in 2020.

The survey also showed more patients feel virtual care offers equal or better treatment than in-person visits, although it’s not exactly a landslide.

More than half of those surveyed (55%) said virtual visits offer comparable or superior care than in-person visits, up from 40% in 2020. There were differences in those with chronic illness. A solid majority of participants with chronic illness (67%) said telemedicine visits offered equal or better care, but less than half (47%) of those without chronic illness said virtual visits were comparable or better than in-person appointments.

The report also gauged participants on their preferred devices for telehealth visits. Most of those surveyed (59%) said they preferred using their mobile devices, while 38% said they preferred using a computer (either laptop or desktop). The report noted that 85% of Americans own smartphones, so telemedicine can close the digital gap in medicine.

The federal government eased restrictions on telehealth when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in 2020. Healthcare advocacy groups have been urging the White House and Congress to approve reforms to make telehealth access permanent.

Earlier this month, U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) introduced a bill that would allow the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to extend Medicare payments for telehealth services for an additional two years. The legislation would also authorize a study of the effectiveness of telehealth services during the pandemic, so Congress would have more information to decide if telehealth access should be permanent.

More than 300 healthcare organizations signed a letter Jan. 31 urging congressional leaders to pass telehealth reforms.

A federal report showed use of telehealth by Medicare beneficiaries in 2020 was 63 times higher than the previous year. Medicare reported 52.7 million telehealth visits in 2020, up from 840,000 in 2019.

While telehealth usage has expanded, a federal study showed disparities in access to telehealth, with Black, Latino and Asian American patients using video telehealth services less often than white patients. Healthcare advocates have said lack of broadband access in some areas is an impediment to expanding telemedicine access.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded $55 million to 29 community health centers to expand telemedicine access to underserved communities.