Patients want to keep using virtual care after COVID-19 pandemic ends, survey finds

Patients adopted virtual care during the COVID-19 pandemic out of necessity but now they want those services to stick around after the health crisis is over.

At least 60% of patients who used virtual care tools said that based on their experience during the pandemic, they want to use technology more for communicating with healthcare providers and managing their conditions in the future, according to a survey from Accenture.

“Many patients said they felt care was more personal, more convenient, and timelier," said Brad Michel, who leads Accenture's North America Life Sciences division, in a statement.

"Rather than having to commute to a doctor’s office or treatment facility and undergo the stress of sitting in a waiting room for their turn, care was now being administered at home—in a setting, time, and place where people felt most comfortable. A good many also said the information they received was better," Michel said.

Nine out of 10 patients reported the quality of care was as good or better than before, the survey found.

Accenture surveyed 2,700 oncology, cardiology, or immunology patients in May across China, France, Germany, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. at a time when all participating countries were under some degree of government restrictions as a result of the global pandemic.

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Patients were afraid to risk exposure to COVID-19 by going to their healthcare providers for regular treatment, and many (70%) deferred or canceled at least some elements of their treatment.

In a bid to help support practices, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) made sweeping changes to telehealth policies to pay for virtual visits at the same rate as in-person visits while the coronavirus emergency remains in effect.

CMS also agreed to pay physicians for patient visits that take place by telephone to help practices stay open by providing them with needed revenue.

Providers have cheered the Trump administration's actions to open up access to telehealth and would like to see the regulatory flexibility on reimbursement stick around.

Nearly half of all surveyed patients also started getting some treatment at home instead of going to their healthcare provider’s office and they began using virtual tools such as video conference calls, online chat, and apps.

Sixty-three percent of those who used video conferencing said it was very good or excellent, an impressive response given 70% were using video conferencing for treatment for the first time.

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The survey found that 4 in 10 patients started using new devices or apps during the COVID-19 pandemic to help manage their conditions. More than 90% of those using a new device or app rated the experience good or excellent and want to continue to use them.

Forty-seven percent of respondents said they received better, more personalized responses; 41% said quicker responses and 40% said it was more convenient to access through new communications channels.

The survey also found that overall trust in the healthcare system has increased. Sixty percent of patients surveyed said their trust in healthcare providers increased, and 45% said their trust in pharmaceutical and medical device companies has increased.

Along with in-person doctor visits, many clinical trials were disrupted by COVID-19. For trials that continued, the use of virtual care was critical for consultations, treatment, and monitoring. About two-thirds of patients whose trials continued used some form of virtual communication or care, the survey found.

RELATED: Half of physicians now using telehealth as COVID-19 changes practice operations

“Increasing virtual communication and treatment options offer multiple benefits for clinical trials,” said Michel. “Patients want more video conferencing and fewer clinic visits, which would make clinical trials more convenient and accessible.”

“The pandemic has shifted patient attitudes and expectations as they have embraced new digital tools. What we are seeing, and hearing is that virtual care is here to stay,” said Stuart Henderson, Accenture’s global Life Sciences lead in a statement.

Companies need to invest people, time and money now to build on this momentum to expand and enhance the tools and platforms they use to communicate with and provide care for patients, according to Henderson.

"But technology is not enough, as companies must also continue to engage patients directly to deliver on expectations," he said.