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Survey: Patients Interested in Using Telemedicine Services

January 28, 2015
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Among patients who have not used a telemedicine service, 75 percent express interest in using one in lieu of an in-person medical visit, according to new research from the Austin, Tx.-based electronic health record (EHR) selection group Software Advice.

The survey included a total of 519 responses (381 non-telemedicine users and 138 telemedicine users). Most of the patients in the sample (73 percent) say they have never participated in a telemedical visit, while another 18 percent have done so within the past 12 months. Six percent of patients say they used telemedicine more than 12 months ago. However, 75 percent of patients are at least “moderately interested” in using videoconferencing software for a virtual visit in lieu of an in-person office visit for a minor health condition.

What’s more, among patients from both groups (those who have and have not used telemedicine), just 16 percent say they would prefer to go to the ER for a minor ailment if they also had access to a healthcare provider via videoconferencing. Since 71 percent of patients would “strongly” or “somewhat prefer” to seek care online for their minor medical issues, it stands to reason that greater adoption of telemedicine could reduce the burden on ER staff and resources, according to the survey’s researchers. The average ER visit, according to a study by the National Institute of Health in 2013, costs $2,168—vastly more than the average telemedical visit, at $40 to $50, the researchers noted.

The most cited positive elements among the sample align with the benefits that telemedicine advocates typically promote: quality of care that is similar to or higher than an in-person visit (21 percent), not having to travel to the visit (21 percent); and the ability to enjoy the comforts of home (20 percent). An additional 6 percent of respondents say they didn’t perceive any benefits during their telemedical visit.

Further, 67 percent of patients, combined, respond that using telemedicine “somewhat” or “significantly increases” their satisfaction with their medical care. Just 10 percent report that it “decreases” their satisfaction, and another 23 percent say it has no impact.

Finally, patients who have used telemedicine cited the top concerns they had about their most recent visit. Twenty-one percent of patients find the lack of in-person interaction troublesome, with many pointing out that the visit was “colder” or “less personal” than an ordinary, in-person visit. Similarly, 8 percent say they are uncomfortable making video calls, and 6 percent are unable to read body language over video.

“Our data indicates that patients, too, are interested in using telemedicine to improve their overall experience,” said the survey’s researchers. “Thus, providers should consider how this technology can fulfill patient’s desires to access medical care from the comfort of home—while saving their practices valuable time and resources.”

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