But Do Patients Want Telehealth? The Survey Says ‘Yes!’

Posted by Michael Greiwe, MD | June 18, 2018 |
Michael Greiwe, MD

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One of the biggest concerns that orthopedists express to the OrthoLive team is whether their patients will actually “take” to the concept and practice of virtual healthcare.

What many of these practitioners may not realize is that not only have telehealth applications been around for decades, but patients are now ready and more than willing to try them. In fact, this physician reluctance has been called out recently by The Advisory Board as simply not in tune with what patients want!

This article will look at the latest polling numbers showing strong consumer interest in using this technology. What trends are driving consumer demand? Could even the most reluctant physician be convinced that telehealth has a place in their practice?

Patients Express Interest in Telehealth

Today, patients want the ease and convenience found in telehealth applications.

This trend isn’t new; a 2015 Harris Poll showed that virtual visits are finally becoming a requested part of the American healthcare scene. The poll showed that 64% of patients said they would be willing to see their doctor through a video conference instead of a traditional in-person visit. Of these patients, the majority (61%) said the convenience of these visits was the primary reason for their interest. At that time, one if five patients said they would prefer telehealth visits over the emergency room.

But that was three years ago. What’s happened since?

It turns out the number of patients that express interest in telehealth has only increased. A poll by The Advisory Board Company was released about a year ago in 2017. Their study found that 77% of American healthcare consumers would consider a telehealth visit, and 19% already have experienced the technology.

The news release of the study stated, “The results suggest that the health care industry has largely underestimated and, to date, failed to meet consumer interest in virtual care.”

They point out that business and industry have widely used video conferencing and as a result, consumers have grown more comfortable with these types of digital applications.

Too, the other consumer trend that has only aided interest in telehealth, is the global obsession with cell phone technology. Today, everything is done by mobile digital device – including experiencing a doctor visit via an m-health application.

Pew Research released the latest numbers on cell phone use in 2018:

  • 95% of all Americans own a cell phone.
  • 77% of these devices are smartphones.
  • One in five Americans is a smartphone-only Internet user at home.

If all of these trends and consumer attitudes are generally positive toward telehealth, why hasn’t these types of applications crossed over from the hospital, where they’ve been widely used for years, to the medical practice?

While Americans continue to grow their usage of and dependence on their handheld devices and while they express their interest in telehealth applications as a potential alternative for their medical care, The Advisory Board survey found out something else thwarting the growth of telehealth:

But when Advisory Board conducted hundreds of interviews with health care
leaders, researchers discovered a common barrier to growing a mature program -- physician resistance. Many physicians perceive their patients as only being
interested in having an in-person relationship with their doctor,
especially when it comes to specialty services. The survey results indicate otherwise.

The Advisory Board conducted 5,000 surveys and found that physicians remain worried about the quality of care and the ability to diagnose from afar. Yet only 7% of the poll respondents on the healthcare consumer side of the equation expressed the same concerns that physicians seemed to have.

Telehealth can benefit any practice. But what’s the best way to overcome physician skepticism about the application?

Convincing the Skeptics: Telehealth and Your Practice

An article in Patient Engagement HIT says that healthcare is increasingly moving toward a patient-first approach. They suggest, “Patients want their providers to adapt to the digital economy and to offer more convenient care as consumerism continues to grip the industry.”

But for the average specialist reading this article, getting started on a telehealth offering for their practice may seem like a difficult task. The first step is to envision the application in the medical practice.

Betty Hovey and Cheryl Toth published their take on using telehealth in the orthopedic practice just late last year in the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. In it, they express that providers will be increasingly drawn to the practice efficiencies stemming from telehealth, while patients will continue to seek out the service for some of the same reasons. Hovey and Toth say these trends have put telehealth “at the tipping point.” They suggest:

Although it's true that the fastest-growing telehealth services are for simple conditions, orthopaedics is ripe for leveraging the technology to improve patient convenience. Imagine if patients who are in pain or wearing a cast didn't need to drive (or have someone drive them) to the office for what is often a 10-minute visit. The incision check or mobility assessment could be done on a tablet or mobile device in the comfort of the patient's home or workplace.

The orthopedic application for telehealth is just one way that providers can streamline practice efficiencies. We’ve found physician attitudes in these practices often mirror the findings of The Advisory Board.

But the irony is that the world – and healthcare -- is changing, consumer attitudes are shifting, and reimbursement is declining, forcing providers to do more with less. With consumers expecting the convenience of telemedicine in the future, it’s clear that medical practices must shift their thinking to incorporate these models. For the small to mid-sized orthopedic option, there are now affordable options available that can help you respond to consumer demand.

OrthoLive has developed a low-cost subscription service in the cloud that can help even the smallest medical practice offer telehealth to their patients. The application has clear benefits to the orthopedic practice, including:

  • Decrease patient wait times.
  • Improve patient volumes.
  • Increase patient satisfaction.
  • Improved access to care.
  • Less wait time to see the provider.
  • Eliminate travel costs.

Contact OrthoLive. We can help your practice stay ahead of consumer demand, expand your practice, and give your patients options.

Topics: orthopedic practice, "telemedicine", "telehealth", Patient