New research shows patients value the convenience of telehealth—even for bad news

Telemedicine consultation
Patients and primary care physicians are enthusiastic about the convenience of telehealth.

Patients appear to be climbing aboard the telehealth bandwagon for the convenience of staying at home, and doctors are keen on the ability to use video consultations for follow-up care.

All 19 telehealth patients at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia indicated they were satisfied with their telehealth visit, according to a series qualitative interviews published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

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“You’re sitting right in your room on your computer,” one patient said. “How much more convenient can that be? And you don’t even have to take a shower. I mean you can get on the computer, talk to the doctor, go back to bed.”

Although patients praised the ability to bypass an office waiting room and the money saved in transportation costs, privacy considerations limited some patients from conducting a telehealth visit at work.

Most healthcare executives plan to invest in telehealth this year. In Wisconsin, primary care practices have begun using nurse practitioners and physician assistants to conduct virtual visits with patients.

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In an interview with AAFP News, Rhea Powell, M.D., M.P.H., a general internist and clinical assistant professor at Thomas Jefferson University and one of the study’s authors, said the fact that some patients prefer video consultations over in-person exams opens up new opportunities for those that face barriers to medical care. She added that from the physician’s perspective, telehealth is particularly helpful for follow-up visits for patients with chronic conditions like diabetes or depression.

“I don't always need the patient to come into the office,” she said. “But I do need to have 20 minutes set aside so that the two of us can touch base, see how things are going, see how the patient is responding to any change in therapy.”

One surprising finding from the study: Patients prefer to receive bad news via video in the privacy of their own home.

“This is somewhat contrary to the historical recommendations that we providers have been taught -- that patients must come in to the office to receive serious news because we need to tell them face-to-face,” Powell told AAFP News.