Patients seem to like the convenience of telehealth, as well as the ability to remain safe from COVID-19 transmission – especially before the vaccine rollout in the United States.
But a new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research also shows that patient satisfaction with their virtual engagement with clinicians is also comparable to in-person care.
“Our study found that virtual visits facilitate healthcare access and relationship-building, contributing to satisfying relationship-centered care, a crucial aspect of contemporary patient experiences,” wrote researchers.
WHY IT MATTERS
The study, led by researchers from the Cleveland Clinic, surveyed 426 adult patients with a virtual visit between June and July 2017 – notably, before the COVID-19 pandemic more broadly normalized telemedicine.
The average overall satisfaction score was 4.4 out of 5, with about 82% of respondents saying their virtual visit was as good as an in-person visit with a clinician.
In fact, more than half of the respondents agreed that their virtual visit was better than an in-person one.
When it came to engagement specifically, the vast majority of patients (nearly 93%) said their virtual visit clinician was interested in them as a person. About 95% said they had made a plan of action together with their provider to resolve their health concerns.
“Our study suggests that it is possible to measure the patient-clinician engagement and begin to evaluate empathy and collaborative relationships with patients during a virtual visit,” wrote researchers.
In terms of technology, 92.7% of patients found the interface easy to use and 94.8% felt comfortable using it.
However, technical difficulties were associated with lower odds of overall satisfaction, and 14% of respondents recommended that patients be given more information before their virtual visits to know what to expect and how to prepare for their appointment.
The results of the JMIR study echo another recent survey, conducted by the telehealth vendor Cronofy, that found that 83% of patients rated their remote healthcare experience as positive.
And despite reports showing telehealth use is beginning to taper, 87% of respondents in that survey said they expected to use telehealth the same amount or more in the future.
THE LARGER TREND
Although patient satisfaction is certainly important, patient access will also be a priority for telehealth’s future.
Advocates have repeatedly pointed to the prospect of the “telehealth cliff,” which patients and providers will face without congressional action to safeguard pandemic-era flexibilities.
But even with telemedicine-friendly policies in place, some lawmakers and researchers have flagged the danger of virtual care widening the “digital divide,” particularly in regions without access to broadband.
ON THE RECORD
“Even during a single virtual visit, we found that patients and clinicians could meaningfully engage in relationship-building practices,” wrote the Cleveland Clinic researchers in their JMIR study.
“Strategies to prepare established patients for virtual visits with their clinicians may ease the transition from in-person care to virtual care, resulting in better experiences for both.”
Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Email: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.
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