The notion of a “paradigm shift” is among the most shopworn ideas in business, but occasionally it actually happens. Such is the case with the mass migration to telehealth during the raging COVID-19 pandemic. Fear of infection has forced health-care providers (HCPs), to replace in-office visits with phone calls, video chats, and web meetings, for both routine and acute care. Millions of patients have tried telemedicine for the first time, just within the last six months, and have realized that for the most part they like it! That means big changes for the physician-patient relationship after the pandemic subsides, and an innovate/on opportunity for health-care providers and the health-tech companies that support them.
In June, Applied Marketing Science (AMS) launched a Voice of the Customer study to understand what U.S. patients need in telemedicine. Using a combination of one-on-one, in-depth telephone interviews with patients and text mining of online discussion boards, we studied pain points and desired outcomes in arranging, conducting, or following-up on telemedicine visits. The bottom line: while telemedicine is not a perfect substitute for an in-person exam, it has helped patients meet important latent needs, and has thus set the stage for disruptive innovation. Here are a few things we have learned, so far:
- Convenience is unsurprisingly, a key benefit of telemedicine, but it is more than simply not leaving the house. A telemedicine appointment can fit between work meetings or during a child’s nap. Moreover, patients appreciate how telemedicine saves idle time—time in traffic, time in the waiting room, time in the exam room—time that would otherwise be wasted in waiting.
- Patients realize tremendous benefit from how telemedicine has widened access to clinicians, especially specialists at teaching hospitals. With no travel required, patients find it easier to match their schedules with busy physicians and have a consultation or second opinion based on existing lab tests or imaging studies.
- Payment for telemedicine is often challenging. Patients are familiar with the process of presenting an insurance card and payment for an in-person visit, but remote care is less straightforward. Physicians’ offices must develop and communicate clear processes for billing and payment.
- Establishing rapport and comfort is a high bar to clear. Patients report feeling more reserved and tentative about sharing health details online, especially with a new physician. Some patients are concerned about who else might be listening to their conversation, whether at the physician’s office or perhaps in their own home (a greater concern for patients living in multi-family dwellings).
- While patients are generally familiar with video conferencing, more so in the age of virtual cocktail parties and family visits, technology troubles nonetheless undercut the patient experience. Disconnected sessions, frozen video, and missing audio happen far too often. When the discussion concerns a serious topic like a potentially life-threatening illness, these annoyances can become major stressors.
It is clear that telemedicine satisfies many patient needs better than in-person care, while in other ways traditional office visits remain preferred. Clinicians, insurance companies, and other healthcare providers should closely monitor how patients’ needs have changed and look for ways to innovate in both the face-to-face and virtual patient experience. Any time a paradigm shifts, new opportunities can appear, and innovations can take root.
Our research into this topic continues, and we look forward to publishing additional insights as we uncover them. In the month ahead, our team will field a survey of patients to prioritize insights and identify areas of focus for improving the patient experience. Please be sure to subscribe to our blog for our latest research into this dynamic field.