By Sara Heath
October 07, 2020 – Telehealth is one of the top health sectors yielding a high patient satisfaction score, but just about half of patients are still citing some barriers to virtual care access, according to the J.D. Power 2020 US Telehealth Satisfaction Study.
Although telehealth has been around for years, it has seen its biggest use case during the COVID-19 pandemic. As medical providers had to shutter their doors to non-urgent and non-emergency care access, they turned to telehealth to make ends meet. The virtual care access technology enabled remote chronic disease management and generated some income for primary care clinics in dire financial straits.
More than a half a year since the initial pandemic surge, most experts say telehealth will become a part of the “new normal” in some fashion. That is due in large part to the high patient satisfaction the technology has created.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a moment of truth for telehealth, and, by most accounts, the technology is rising to the challenge and delivering a high degree of satisfaction among those who use it,” said James Beem, managing director of global healthcare intelligence at J.D. Power.
The overall patient satisfaction score across all telehealth providers came in at 860 on a 1,000-point scale, the survey of about 4,300 individuals who had used telehealth in the past 12 months. This is one of the highest patient satisfaction scores for a healthcare services study J.D. Power has ever done.
“However, even though the public awareness with Telehealth is higher due to the influence of COVID-19, the barriers for the consumer to engage with the technology has been a consistent theme in our research,” Beem added.
All said, 52 percent of patients said they encountered at least one barrier that made it hard to access telehealth. Twenty-four percent said services are too limited, 17 percent said technology requirements were too confusing, and 15 percent said they didn’t know how much telehealth was going to cost them.
Thirty-five percent of patients said they experienced at least one technology issue during a telehealth visit. Twenty-six percent said those issues were related to audio, which was the top-cited telehealth issue.
There were some differences among the survey respondent mix, the researchers said. By and large, patients with lower self-reported health and wellness levels tended to be less satisfied with telehealth.
On average, patient satisfaction scores among those with lower health status were 117 points lower than the overall 860 score, the report showed.
Patients with higher self-reported health status were more likely to say they understood the information given during a telehealth appointment, received clear self-management instructions, had a highly personalized care encounter, and obtained a high-quality diagnosis.
Those differences and virtual care access issues notwithstanding, it’s clear telehealth was a boon as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the survey indicated. Case in point, more patients than ever—46 percent—said they used telehealth because of patient safety concerns. This is up from 13 percent of patients who said the same in the 2019 telehealth satisfaction survey.
A closer look at the telehealth providers patients used in 2020 shows the overall favorability of virtual and remote care access. Although some telehealth technology vendors were rated more favorably among patient users, nearly all got generally positive reviews.
For example, Amwell came out as the top-ranked direct-to-consumer telehealth platform, scoring an 885 on the patient satisfaction scale. Doctor on Demand came in second, scoring an 879.
But there wasn’t a major spread in the top- and bottom-ranked direct-to-consumer telehealth software. Amwell scored an 885 on the patient satisfaction scale, compared to MDLIVE, which came in at the bottom with an 843.
Considering the 1,000-point satisfaction scale, this is a relatively small spread in scoring between the top- and bottom-ranked vendors. This could suggest patients are largely satisfied with all of the direct-to-consumer telehealth platforms.
Patients also reported varying degrees of satisfaction with their healthcare payers, many of which provided telehealth services through their health plan benefits. Cigna was the top-ranked payer-provided telehealth service, receiving a patient satisfaction score of 874. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan received an 867, coming in second, and UnitedHealthcare ranked third, getting an 865 out of 1,000.
Patient satisfaction with payer-provided telehealth followed a similar trajectory as satisfaction with telehealth platforms. The spread between the top- and bottom-ranked payers was relatively slim, considering the 1,000-point scale. Compared to Cigna’s 874, Anthem, which came in at the bottom of payer-provided telehealth, received an 854. Again, this suggests general patient satisfaction with all telehealth services.
These report findings corroborate what much of the rest of the literature had contended: that telehealth is a patient care access modality that is here to stay. Patients swarmed to the tool at the onset of the novel coronavirus, and have largely seen telehealth’s utility.
Providers have gone on the record saying they will continue to lean into this patient care access preference, so long as the reimbursement models continue to support telehealth. It would be hard to ask patients to return to traditional, in-person care, so many experts expect reimbursement models will adjust to more permanent telehealth delivery going forward.