Telehealth Growing in Appeal, Survey Finds

More consumers seem comfortable with the idea of such services, and telehealth providers may have an advocate in the new administation.

“Consumers are clearly interested in more convenient access to healthcare—and increasingly, they are even willing to switch providers to get internet video service,” Mary Modahl, chief marketing officer of American Well, said in a press release regarding suvey findings commissioned by her company. “Health systems and provider groups must take note; if you haven’t already, 2017 is the year to put a secure telehealth platform in place.”

A recent Harris Poll survey of over 4,000 American consumers found that one in five were willing to switch from their current primary care physician (PCP) to one that offered telehealth visits. Researchers noted a particular interest among the survey respondents in using telehealth to manage a chronic illness or get a prescription refilled.

American Well is a telehealth company, and the survey used online questions to adult respondents about their perceptions of telehealth. Of the consumers with a PCP, the survey found that 65% were very or somewhat interested in video appointments. If their PCP did not offer video visits, 20% of the respondents said they would be willing to switch to a new provider who offered telehealth visits. Extrapolated to the US adult population, around 50 million Americans could be interested in switching PCPs to get telehealth visits, up from the 17 million calculated based on the 2015 survey.

Certain demographics reported higher interest in potentially changing PCPs to one offering telehealth appointments. For instance, 34% of parents of children under 18 said they would be willing to make the switch, compared with 14% of non-parents. Interest was also higher-than-average among 18 to 34 year olds and 35 to 44 year olds, at 26% and 30%, respectively.

The survey also evaluated attitudes towards potential telehealth applications. Of the respondents interested in telehealth, 60% said they would use video visits to manage a chronic condition, and 78% said they would use telehealth to get a prescription refilled by their PCP. The report highlighted the potential of telehealth to improve treatment adherence and save time among this population, as the average wait time to see a doctor in person is nearly 20 days.

Telehealth may have a staunch advocate in the new administration in new HHS secretary Tom Price, R-Georgia. During his confirmation hearings, Price lauded telemedicine as an “exciting innovation” and “absolutely vital,” citing a Georgia telehealth program that had helped improve access to care for stroke patients in rural areas. Price, himself a physician, emphasized the need to “accentuate the ability to use telemedicine” by improving reimbursement for clinicians.

A version of this story originally appears in the American Journal of Managed Care.