Industry Voices—Survey shows 83% of patients want virtual health, but there's a problem

Virtual care, remote monitoring, telehealth and other technologies have long been on the “nice to have” list for healthcare.

The idea of being able to speak face to face with a doctor, have a nurse check vital signs or perform dozens of other tasks without having to leave home or work holds a lot of appeal to time-crunched healthcare consumers as well as overworked providers looking for ways to serve patients more efficiently and effectively.

Yet, that’s all it’s been—an idea that will be great “someday.” But according to a recent consumer survey about attitudes toward virtual care, it appears “someday” isn’t good enough anymore. Instead, the demand has now reached critical mass.

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Eric Rock (Vivify Health)

In fact, 83% of those consumers said they are interested in receiving virtual care, yet only 17% reported they have access to it. That’s a pretty substantial disconnect between what providers are offering and what their patients say they want. And make no mistake, in today’s consumer-driven, high-deductible health plan world, patients are most definitely customers.

Surely by now, though, healthcare organizations have recognized this high demand and are acting to address it. Especially knowing that online consumer-facing giants such as Amazon and Google parent company Alphabet are looking to break into healthcare in a big way, and major retailers with a strong online presence such as CVS and Walmart are increasing their footprints as well.

Actually, that’s not the case. According to the 2019 State of Consumerism in Healthcare report (PDF) from healthcare financial consulting firm Kaufman Hall, 61% of provider executives surveyed identified offering a variety of facility-based access points to care as a high or “extreme” priority. At the same time, only 27% said offering a variety of virtual access points was a high priority. And only 3% claimed to be high performers in virtual access points.

The takeaway is that patient and provider priorities seem to be diverging, as those providers are clearly more focused on building brick-and-mortar facilities when their consumers are looking for virtual access. That is not a recipe for success.

Streaming care

Digging deeper, 72% of the respondents in the online consumer survey indicated they would prefer to request a virtual visit from their physician if one is available versus going into their doctor’s office.

Why get in the car or take public transportation to go somewhere, particularly if you’re sick when you can have a face-to-face meeting with your physician from the comfort of your own home? Why take time off work to potentially wait an hour or more for a 15-minute appointment when you could use technology to meet on-demand (or with a callback) right from your place of business?

RELATED: Hospital adoption of telehealth surges

The technology exists. Many of us, especially millennials, already use it as part of our everyday lives. Being able to speak with clinicians via video while being fully assured our privacy and security are protected is a natural outgrowth of where the world is headed.

Impact on the physician-patient relationship

Some might object that relying on virtual visits, remote patient monitoring and other technologies might damage the personal relationship between physicians and patients. The consumer survey, however, indicates the opposite, as nearly three-quarters of those consumers stated that having access to virtual care would improve not only their opinion of but their loyalty toward their provider.

One major reason coincides with the retail axiom coined by Marshall Field—give the lady what she wants. Consumers want virtual care. The healthcare organizations that can fulfill that desire will show they are listening and trying harder to meet patients where they are. Literally.

Improving health outcomes

Another reason consumers are so high on the prospect of virtual care is how much they expect it to do for them. More than two-thirds of respondents believe allowing their physicians to manage their care virtually will help improve their health conditions.

RELATED: Only 1 in 10 patients use telehealth as lack of awareness hinders adoption, J.D. Power survey finds

With faster, more convenient access to their physicians, they are more likely to contact physicians early when they have an issue rather than waiting until it becomes nearly unbearable (as many of us do). Remote patient monitoring, especially of those with serious or co-morbid chronic conditions, makes it even easier to stay ahead of negative trends, so they can be resolved before they become serious health threats.

The net result is consumers are able to get and stay healthier far more easily, and often at a lower out-of-pocket cost, helping shift the balance of care to a greater focus on wellness—just in time for the next big push into value-based care.

The time is now

Healthcare organizations are rapidly reaching a tipping point where they must decide where to focus their limited resources to meet consumer demands. Do they build more physical locations to offer greater access? Or do they skip that step entirely and place greater focus on delivering more services virtually?

If we listen to our customers, the answer is obvious. The demand for virtual care and remote monitoring has reached critical mass. It’s time for the supply to keep up.  

Eric Rock is founder and CEO of Vivify Health, a mobile digital health platform.