The COVID-19 pandemic has brought sweeping changes to telemedicine and the comfort level of the American general public in using telehealth technology. While staying home and staying safe many Americans were forced to try telemedicine. According to the nonprofit group FAIR Health in March and April of 2020 private insurers processed claims for telehealth services totaling nearly $4 billion.
With many doctors’ offices closed to visits and non-essential medical care limited, many people needing medical care or advice tried virtual care for the first time. People who might not have been ready to try telemedicine under normal circumstances had no other option and many were pleasantly surprised by how easy and effective it could be.
Telemedicine before COVID-19
Telemedicine is a piece of the modern medical pie that has been slowly growing for years. In the past decade hospital use of telehealth technology has grown from a 35% implementation in 2010 to more than double that. While hospitals have been quick to recognize the value in using telehealth technology its use has grown more slowly in a direct patient to practitioner setting.
Outside of the hospitals use of telemedicine has been a valuable tool in treating patients living in rural, sparsely populated, and underserved areas. It has also begun to grow in the private health care sector. Prior to 2020 private insurance companies were beginning to increase their coverage of telemedicine services and mainstream use was growing. However, coverage of virtual care was limited under government health care programs like Medicare to specific circumstances and often dependent on the physical location of the patient needing care.
Changes in Telehealth Use Due to COVID-19
The 2020 COVID-19 global pandemic brought changes to the way Americans used telehealth technology very quickly. The first stay at home order was issued by the state of California on March 19, 2020, and by the first week in April, an additional 44 states had issued stay at home orders of some kind.
Healthcare providers scrambled to pivot to dramatically increasing their telehealth services. People needing medical care suddenly had no option other than telemedicine to serve them in many cases. The commonwealth fund published findings demonstrating that ambulatory care visits had declined by as much as 60% in the early weeks of the pandemic. While there has been some rebound in face to face visits as stay at home orders have lifted use of telemedicine has remained far higher than in pre-pandemic days.
First-Hand Experience Using Telemedicine has Increased Trust for Patients
While many patients may have had no option other than telemedicine during the early months of this pandemic, the response in patients has been positive.
In a survey by the professional services company Accenture, 60% of patients surveyed said they would be in favor of using more telehealth technology to communicate with their providers and manage their care in the future.
Nine out of ten of those patients found the quality of care they received using telehealth technology to be as good as or better than their traditional care.
60% said their trust in their healthcare providers increased during this time and 63% of those using video conferencing for their healthcare found it good or excellent. Considering the fact that 70% of those surveyed were using video conferencing for telehealth for the first time this is particularly encouraging.
In a time of great fear and uncertainty, Americans turned to telemedicine in a “needs must” kind of response. As many used telemedicine for the first time they were reassured in its quality. Most found their virtual visits with their healthcare providers to be simple, straightforward, and effective at serving their needs. This “trial by fire” created trust in the use of telemedicine in a way that might have taken years of evolution in public opinion under normal circumstances.