Patient preference survey finds drop in telehealth use, ER visits compared to 2021

Fewer Americans are using telehealth compared to earlier in the pandemic, a new survey has found.

Stericycle Communication Solutions, a patient engagement solutions vendor, released the results of its third annual survey, which reached more than 1,000 adults. It found that 45% of respondents had used telehealth in the last year, compared to 78% in 2021 and 71% in 2020. It also found 93% of respondents had their last primary care visit in person. That is likely due to consumer preference, not a lack of telehealth availability, Stericycle’s senior vice president Matt Dickson told Fierce Healthcare. 

“We’ve seen a precipitous decline in telehealth appointments,” Dickson noted. “Overall, the preference certainly has been to lean much more heavily to in-person care.” 

Among those that had used telehealth, younger adults were much more likely to have done so. These consumers (ages 18 to 34) were also more likely to seek care at nontraditional venues like retail health clinics and to display less provider loyalty than older generations (age 55 and up). 

The vast majority of those who sought care outside the typical clinic said they would again. However, nearly half said their experience felt disjointed from the rest of their medical care. 

Respondents of all ages prioritize location and convenience when seeking care, followed by insurance coverage and the quality of the provider. Additionally, online scheduling and positive reviews matter more to younger adults. 

Younger adults reported being more mentally impacted by the pandemic and more likely to seek behavioral health care, with telehealth remaining popular for therapy and primary care visits. 

“Consumers are very quickly figuring out what kinds of appointments can be done successfully virtually,” Dickson said. 

Home care remains an “untapped resource,” per the report, with most respondents not having used the service in the past year. Of those that did, most were very satisfied. As with telehealth, younger adults were more likely to seek the service. 

High costs were a deterrent to care, with a third of adults delaying some type of care in the past year for this reason. Half were 18- to 34-year-olds, compared to 16% of those 55 and older. Besides costs, a lack of appointments, not feeling safe to get in-person care and forgetting to schedule were other reasons for delayed care.

There was a notable drop—less than half—in the number of people receiving ER care compared to 2021. Those who did visit the ER most often were younger adults, with ambulances shrinking as the most popular method of arrival. Of those who needed follow-up care following their visit, a third didn’t get a referral.

The findings suggest that providers need to streamline appointment scheduling and have better patient outreach to ensure continuity of care and patient satisfaction, the report authors wrote.