Optum survey: Providers see telehealth as convenient, but frustrations remain

While providers often find telehealth as convenient as their patients do, a number of frustrations with virtual care linger, according to a new survey from Optum.

The healthcare giant surveyed 240 providers across multiple services lines, largely primary care, and found that 69% said they would use the word "convenient" to describe telehealth. However, 28% instead described these tools as "frustrating."

The survey highlighted several key sources of frustration that providers run into when offering telehealth or virtual care visits. For one, 58% said they were concerned with the quality of care they can provide in a virtual setting. More than half (55%) said managing patient expectations of what the visit can do is also a challenge.

In addition, 50% said it was frustrating to navigate the technical hurdles that come with offering telehealth and virtual visits.

Thinking about these challenges is critical, according to the survey, as telehealth use grew significantly due to COVID-19 and remains elevated compared to pre-pandemic levels. Most docs surveyed (93%) said they expect to continue using telehealth once the pandemic ends.

"The innovations utilized over the past two years and the convenience they have brought to providers and patients should not be left behind," said Puneet Maheshwari, co-founder and CEO of DocASAP at Optum, in a statement. "Telehealth has proven to be a valuable and convenient asset for patients accessing care, so providers and technology vendors need to continue improving on the technology itself as well as the virtual care processes."

Three-quarters of those surveyed said they currently use telehealth to provide primary care visits, and 72% said they offer chronic care visits through virtual options. More than half (64%) said they use telehealth to order prescription refills for patients.

Rarer uses identified in the survey include using telehealth to conduct COVID-19 screenings (39%), using it for urgent care visits (38%) or having virtual care visits for behavioral health needs (36%). Twenty-eight percent of the providers surveyed said they use telehealth for follow-ups after a surgical procedure.

Those surveyed heavily favored real-time communications platforms over asynchronous channels to reach patients. Most docs (88%) said they used telehealth for virtual visits, while 80% said they used it for telephonic visits. By comparison, just 30% said they used secure messages, 12% used email and 7% reached patients via text messaging.

"As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves across communities, many providers are weighing whether and how to continue offering virtual care," Optum wrote in the announcement. "The pandemic has exposed opportunities to improve the patient experience and the scale of virtual care offerings. For many providers, optimizing their telehealth technology may offer a good starting point."