Survey Says: Telehealth Education Not a Top Priority

It’s difficult to dispute the growth in telehealth usage in recent years, as providers and health care organizations in particular have sought to incorporate the technologies into their practice. But are health care organizations adequately prioritizing patient education about what telehealth actually entails, or what its benefits are? As mHealth Intelligence first reported, a new study from researchers at telehealth company Avizia point to what they term a “gap” between patients and providers when it comes to telehealth—with organizations rushing to utilize it, while patient awareness remains relatively low. “Hospitals and health care-delivery systems are embracing telehealth, having made substantial investments in infrastructure, training, and process re-engineering,” the Avizia researchers note in a synopsis of their findings. “Yet most patients—about eight out of 10 consumers—are still largely unaware of how to access telehealth or whether their insurer will cover it.”

Avizia researchers used two surveys—one geared toward patients, and the other toward providers—to gauge awareness and utilization. Most notably, they found limited knowledge of telehealth among consumers, with most respondents indicating that they didn’t know what a telehealth visit would entail, or whether their insurance company covered it. Only 18 percent of consumers surveyed reported actually having used telehealth. At the same time, the majority (70 percent) of providers cited “ability to expand access or reach to patients” as their primary reason for using telehealth, pointing to a gap in awareness. Simply put, as the researchers note, “Patients need to be informed how telehealth can work to their benefit.” How might providers work to bridge this gap? The researchers suggest increased educational and outreach efforts on the provider side, potentially in conjunction with insurers. “Providers that are keen to raise patient awareness and increase participation in telehealth may wish to consider some sort of joint patient education outreach with their leading managed-care partners,” they note.

Previous studies have highlighted a growing patient demand for telehealth and other virtual care services. Last year, for example, the Advisory Board Company’s Virtual Visits Consumer Choice Survey found that 77 percent of people would be willing to have a health care provider visit via telehealth. What’s more, the survey of 5,000 patients also found that 19 percent of patients had already had a virtual visit—perhaps echoing the Avizia surveys’ identified disconnect between demand and actual utilization. On the health care organization side, other researchers have also found a willingness to embrace telehealth; early in 2017, for example, an American Telemedicine Association (ATA) survey of 171 health care executives found that an overwhelming 83 percent of health care organizations had plans to invest in telehealth and mHealth in the next year. Only one percent of respondents had no plans to do so at any point in the future.

Click here to read the mHealth Intelligence article on the Avizia study.

Click here to view a summary of the Avizia “Closing the Telehealth Gap” results.

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