Virtual healthcare is on the rise and provides promising solutions to challenges facing healthcare providers and consumers today. At the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, we are preparing students to treat patients virtually by ensuring that they have opportunities to practice delivering virtual care.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic spurred a massive growth in virtual healthcare, the benefits of telemedicine were becoming more recognized and its technology was fast improving. According to a 2020 survey of 842 physicians across the country by Merritt Hawkins and The Physicians Foundation, close to half of all physicians (48%) are currently treating patients through telemedicine, up from 18% in 2018. Deloitte Center for Health Solutions projects that by 2040, a major portion of care, prevention, and well-being services will be delivered virtually.
In this post, we discuss the growth of virtual healthcare and how consumer perception of virtual care has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Overall, consumers have become more comfortable with receiving virtual care, particularly since the pandemic began in early 2020.
- Only 21% of Americans are comfortable receiving virtual psychotherapy or counseling, despite more people experiencing mental health issues during the pandemic.
What Is Virtual Healthcare?
Virtual healthcare is beginning to transform the industry landscape and is likely to become the near-default option for care in the future as it continues to improve patient engagement and experience. ((Bill Fera et al., “The future of virtual health,” Modern Healthcare, May 27, 2020: https://www.modernhealthcare.com/technology/future-virtual-health))
What Are the Benefits of Virtual Healthcare?
Chronic care management accounts for 90% of total healthcare spending, and the population of patients with at least one chronic disease is increasing. ((Jennifer Fowkes et al. “Virtual health: A look at the next frontier of care delivery,” McKinsey & Company, June 11, 2020: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/virtual-health-a-look-at-the-next-frontier-of-care-delivery)) Additionally, higher healthcare utilization, rising patient costs, and reduced access to care due to distributed patient geography are projected. ((Ibid.)) There is a massive opportunity for virtual healthcare to improve and expand the delivery of care to chronic disease patients.
Virtual healthcare can also improve services and care to other patient groups, such as those suffering from mental health issues or seeking primary care. And opportunities are expanding for virtual rehabilitation services—physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology.
Additional benefits of virtual healthcare include: ((Michele Shapiro, “5 Benefits of Virtual Care for Patients,” AARP The Magazine, February/March 2018: https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2018/telemedicine-telehealth-virtual-care-benefits.html))
- Decreased number of appointments needed, thanks to more efficient healthcare services
- Increased convenience and access to healthcare providers and services
- Ability to more closely manage chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure
- Reduced burden of traveling when sick
- Increased ability to bring healthcare providers together and have primary providers and specialists confer together in a virtual visit
How Do Americans Feel About Virtual Healthcare?
Virtual visits were on the rise even before COVID-19, but the pandemic has significantly increased the number of patients receiving virtual care and has impacted their perception of virtual visits.
According to the Deloitte 2020 Survey of US Health Care Consumers, consumers using virtual visits rose to 28% in April up from 19% in early 2020 and 15% in 2019; 80% are likely to have another virtual visit. The survey also found that most consumers are satisfied with their visits and say they will use this type of care again.
In another survey, two-thirds of respondents said that COVID-19 has increased their willingness to try virtual healthcare in the future.
Only One-Fifth of Americans Are Comfortable with Virtual Therapy or Counseling
A CDC survey found that U.S. adults reported considerably higher adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19. During late June, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with anxiety/depression, symptoms related to trauma or stress, substance abuse, and/or suicidal ideation.
It’s critical that Americans be able to access the mental health care they need, and as the CDC suggests, the public health response should be to “increase intervention and prevention efforts to address associated mental health conditions.” Virtual care could expand access to behavioral health treatment to tens of millions of patients. ((Heather Landi, “Virtual behavioral health could expand access to care for 53M Americans, report finds,” Fierce Healthcare, July 28, 2020: https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/tech/virtual-behavioral-health-could-expand-access-to-care-for-53m-americans-accenture-report-finds))
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Americans’ mental health, it’s clear that many still aren’t comfortable receiving virtual therapy or counseling.
In fact, USAHS surveyed 1,000 Americans, and only 21% of those surveyed reported feeling comfortable receiving virtual therapy or counseling. Given the current challenges of in-person visits due to the pandemic, this figure is concerning. It’s important to ensure that people not only have access to the care they need—but also that they are comfortable receiving the care that is available to them.
In order to help people feel more comfortable potentially receiving virtual therapy or counseling, we created a printable list of questions that clients can ask before starting treatment. These questions can help ensure that clients:
- Ask the necessary logistical questions, such as how much treatment will cost.
- Properly vet a prospective therapist to make sure their approach to therapy is a good match.
- Consider what they hope to achieve with therapy.
Click the button below to download the printable questions.
This study, conducted during September 2020 using Google Surveys, consisted of one multiple-choice survey question. The sample consisted of 1,000 respondents. The survey applies post-stratification weighting to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population and ran during September 2020.