Industry Voices—Consumers are flocking to telehealth because of COVID-19. They'll stay for the convenience

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, patient adoption of telehealth was viewed as one of the biggest challenges to widespread deployment. Now, patient and provider use of telehealth has skyrocketed, reaching levels industry experts couldn’t have projected.

As the industry presses forward, it has a critical opportunity to build on this momentum and further expand consumer adoption of telehealth by greatly improving the user experience.  

All patients—not just millennials—value convenience and a positive experience. Consumers are flocking to telehealth because of COVID-19, and they will stay because of the convenience—but only if their overall experience is a good one. 

In December, Advantia Health conducted a small market research survey to inform our OB-GYN expansion and growth. When we asked patients what they valued most about a provider relationship and experience, the most frequent response from women in the Washington, D.C., area was convenience.  

RELATED: Telehealth could grow to a $250B revenue opportunity post-COVID-19: analysis

At the same time, when we asked what would motivate patients to switch providers, over 33% said they were likely to leave for a practice with a better experience.

Experience was mentioned more often than finding a higher quality provider and a better office location.  

This shouldn’t come as a surprise—we know consumers prioritize convenience more than ever before in the 21st century. Yet, as an industry, few healthcare practices have truly and explicitly put the patient experience in the center of their care models. 

Telehealth is a critical part of making patient experience better. Data and feedback from four months of expanded telehealth adoption showed equivalent overall satisfaction scores for telehealth appointments and traditional in-person appointments. Eighty-two percent of patients scored telehealth appointments at 9 or 10, and just 7% reported a less than satisfactory telehealth experience. Forty-three percent of the feedback from users with a positive experience for telehealth appointments cited convenience as the reason for satisfaction.  

Before COVID-19, a survey showed that 34% of consumers were unwilling to use telehealth, citing a preference for in-person care, concerns about privacy, concerns about technology, uncertainty about reimbursement and uncertainty about how to use it. For institutions that offered telehealth pre-pandemic, younger adults and women were more likely to be users. 

Many of the barriers to telehealth that existed before COVID-19 were quickly eliminated to help strengthen our capacity to respond to this public health crisis. Now, we need long-term solutions, especially to privacy and security issues.  

At the same time, many consumer concerns about telehealth—a preference for in-person care, concerns about technology and uncertainty about how to use it—are user experience issues that can be overcome to increase adoption. 

RELATED: Teladoc anticipates Q1 revenue to reach $180M boosted by surge in telehealth visits

As the telehealth industry improves its usability, it must be designed with a diverse audience in mind—catering to seniors as well as millennials—with accessible, easy-to-use interfaces and plain-language explanations.  

To help ease patient fears about technology and usability, one best practice is to call patients before the appointment to make sure the process and expectations are clear. 

Technological advancements save time, money and effort, but in order to truly take off, users need to trust the product. Telehealth can disrupt the healthcare industry if the user experience is as good as other modern consumer services. 

Sean Glass is the CEO of Advantia Health.