According to a new poll conducted by University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, one in four older Americans had a virtual medical visit in the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic, with most of those virtual visits being conducted with videoconferencing technology. This signals a precipitous rise in telehealth tech usage. In a similar poll conducted just last year, only 4% of people over fifty said they’d ever had a virtual visit with a doctor.
It is clear, and perhaps not surprising, that COVID-19 has totally changed the healthcare landscape. Telehealth was already trending upward, but the precautions necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19 has initiated a huge leap in adoption. 45% of those polled said the pandemic made them more interested in telehealth.
“This has been an extraordinary time for the telemedicine movement, and these poll results show just how powerful this ‘trial by fire’ has been,” said Jeff Kullgren, associate director of the poll and U-M assistant professor of internal medicine. “But our data also highlight areas of continued concern for patients that need to be addressed.”
Among those concerns are privacy and accessibility. 24% of respondents expressed reservations about privacy during a telehealth visit, while 25% said they were worried they would have difficulty seeing or hearing their healthcare provider during a telehealth visit. Perhaps most startling, a full two-thirds of those polled said they felt the quality of care in a telehealth visit was not as good.
“These findings have implications for the health providers who have ramped up telehealth offerings rapidly and for the insurance companies and government agencies that have quickly changed their policies to cover virtual visits,” said Lorraine Buis, a health information technology researcher at the University of Michigan who helped design the poll and interpret its results. “Tracking change over time could inform future efforts and highlights the need for much more research on concerns, barriers and optimal use of telehealth by older adults.”
The numbers seem to make it pretty clear that the major barrier to telehealth adoption is patient perception of the technology. It is paramount, then, that healthcare providers address these concerns as a part of their patient outreach. And if quality of care continues to be an issue, doctors and other healthcare providers may need additional training in video best practices. COVID-19 is forcing all of us to make do with the communication tools we have, but in the future, refining telehealth procedures will only increase adoption of these crucial tools.
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