It looks as if the increased reliance on telehealth prompted by the coronavirus won’t abate when the pandemic does. The overwhelming majority of healthcare providers in the U.S. plan to continue to rely on telehealth services going forward, according to a survey from Optum Health, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group. The survey queried 240 healthcare providers and found that 93% of them say they’ll continue to use telehealth in the coming post-pandemic days.
Primary care is at the forefront of the telehealth trend. Survey respondents, three quarters of which are primary care physicians, say that 75% of the telehealth they provide is for primary care visits, and that 72% of this care is for patients with chronic pain. Prescription refills compose 64% of the telecare provided by the respondents, while urgent care visits make up 38%.
Mental health services compose a significant 36% of telehealth provided by respondents, and mental health may be the area for which telehealth meets the greatest need in the future. According to findings from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the U.S. needs over 6,500 mental health clinicians to properly serve the population. Geography plays a big part in this dearth; states such as Missouri and Delaware have the capacity to meet only respective 5.9% and 10% of their mental health needs. Other states, such as New Jersey (68.9%) and Rhode Island (62.9%), offer considerably better access to mental health professionals. It’s easy to see how telehealth breaks down the impediments to accessing mental healthcare caused by location.
How are these telehealth visits conducted? Here, we see a mesh of high tech and traditional practice: patients of the survey respondents made phone calls to schedule 86% of their appointments, which are then a comparable mix of video visits (88%) and phone visits (80%). Other forms of communication lag behind these, including secure messaging (30%), emails (12%), and texting (7%).
As for overall impressions of the uptick in telehealth during pandemic days, the results are mixed. Respondents overwhelmingly applaud the convenience; 90% of them agree on that. But 28% of these providers also describe the telehealth experience as frustrating. Drilling down on the reasons for this frustration, we find 58% have issues with the quality of care they are able to provide via telehealth, 55% found difficulty managing patient expectations, while technical details soured 50% of all telehealth services. So while telecare is here to stay, the path forward will likely still have some road bumps.