A new Health Union survey reveals that people with chronic conditions feel that telehealth, despite its convenience and increased use throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, is generally less preferable than in-person visits, but can still serve as an occasionally suitable alternative. The survey is the fifth in Health Union’s ongoing COVID-19 Consumer Attitudes and Health Behaviors Survey series that captures “snapshots in time” that track the perspectives and health behaviours of people with chronic conditions throughout the pandemic.
Telehealth use continues to increase during the pandemic for people living with chronic health conditions. Nearly three-fourths of respondents of this wave-5 survey said they have had at least one telehealth appointment, up from 63% from the wave 4 survey, which fielded in July.
Fortunately, two-thirds of respondents who have had telehealth appointments considered their experiences to be positive, with convenience being a primary reason. And 44% of all respondents said they were “extremely likely” to consider using telehealth after the pandemic is under control. This number was even higher for people living with autoimmune conditions, such as ankylosing spondylitis (61%), Crohn’s disease (61%) and plaque psoriasis (56%).
However, the survey findings reveal that increased use doesn’t necessarily translate into a clear preference for telehealth. Likewise, telehealth may not always make sense – either to the patient or the healthcare professional (HCP) – for certain types of visits. Instead, telehealth appears to be viewed as an important and convenient tool that – depending on the situation and a number of factors, like preference and comfortability – can be used along with in-person visits to provide patients with the care they need.
Unsurprisingly, after living through the pandemic for nearly eight months, nearly all respondents reported having at least one HCP visit. These visits appear to be a combination of both telehealth and in-person, with 63% reporting using both. Only 10% of respondents have just used telehealth during the pandemic, while nearly a quarter have only seen their HCP in person.
Respondents don’t seem to have an outright preference for telehealth. Instead, they seemingly prefer in-person visits or an either-or scenario, but the reason for the visit appears to be a major factor. More than seven in 10 said they prefer only in-person visits for annual checkups, 65% prefer them for unplanned visits and 46% prefer them for discussing new symptoms, which often requires a physical evaluation. On the other hand, a large portion of respondents said they were fine with either type of visit for discussions about changing or starting new treatments, as well as evaluating whether a new medication is working.
Unsurprisingly, more than six in 10 respondents who have used telehealth rated convenience as at least somewhat better than in-person office visits. That being said, respondents found in-person and telehealth visits to be roughly the same for a number of measurements, including the quality of conversation, the ability to ask questions or voice concerns and the amount of time spent with the HCP. The thoroughness of examination was the only measurement for which in-person visits were clearly favoured over telehealth (47% vs. 9%).
As the pandemic continues, questions remain about the role that telehealth will have inpatient care for years to come. These survey findings show that the answer is not clear-cut, but there are definitely opportunities for HCPs, as well as biopharma companies, to improve care in ways that are convenient and appropriate to individual situations.
Another factor contributing to a preference for either in-person or telehealth is that people who have had in-person visits during the pandemic have felt mostly comfortable with their experiences. Nearly half of respondents have returned to in-person HCP appointments over the past few months. Nearly nine in 10 of those respondents said their HCP’s office took appropriate precautions, and 64% said they felt safe.
Wave five of Health Union’s COVID-19 Consumer Attitudes and Health Behaviors Survey, which was fielded Oct. 23-Nov. 2, includes responses from 2,005 respondents living with chronic health conditions. The respondents were recruited from Health Union’s portfolio of online health communities. Additional survey results may be available upon request.
Findings from the four previous survey waves – in the form of blog posts, infographics, a webinar and a white paper – can be accessed via Health Union’s COVID-19 Resource Center.