Survey data indicates that although patients like and continue to want to access telehealth, they also see a need for in-person care access in the future.

By Sara Heath

November 12, 2020 – The COVID-19 pandemic, and the changes in healthcare delivery stemming from it, has left its mark on the healthcare industry and pushed many patients to prefer digital health as a key care access medium, according to a survey conducted by OnePoll on behalf of DocASAP.

Specifically, patients are increasingly calling on their medical providers to offer a mix of in-person and telehealth care access, a change that likely stems from healthcare’s embrace of telehealth at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As organizations worked to quell virus spread, preserve personnel resources, and allocate personal protective equipment, most leveraged telehealth to keep patients out of the office but on their care management plans.

Evidence shows that patients liked this telehealth access, and per this latest survey, they want their providers to continue offering it alongside in-person care options.

Once COVID-19 subsides, 44 percent of patients said they would prefer their providers to offer both in-person care and care via telehealth, indicating that telehealth’s springtime boom has converted some patients for the long-haul.

Patients want digital options when it comes to more administrative healthcare tasks, too. Forty-eight percent said they prefer online appointment scheduling, while only 39 percent said they prefer to schedule over the phone and 10 percent in person. Three-quarters of patients said being able to schedule an appointment outside of business hours is important. Nearly all (91 percent) Black respondents reported such.

Fifty-six percent of patients want appointment reminders to come via email or text message, up 4 percent of patients reporting the same in 2019. This was true for patients of all races. Sixty-four percent of respondents also said they prefer to get post-appointment follow-up messages via email, text message, or patient portal notification. This is up 6 percent since 2019.

These findings come as patients continue to prize convenient care options, the survey indicated. As noted above, patients were satisfied with and grew accustomed to the coronavirus-era telehealth push, and that has become evident with their growing preference for timely and convenient care.

Forty-four percent of patient respondents said a more convenient care access location would be enough to get them to switch providers, while 40 percent said they’d switch if a new provider could offer both telehealth and in-person visits. Thirty-seven percent said they’d go to a new provider if that provider had timely care availability.

Eighty-five percent of respondents said they would wait no longer than two weeks between scheduling an appointment and actually accessing care, up 5 percent of respondents saying the same in last year’s survey.

The youngest and oldest patients are most likely to want immediate care access. Gen Z and Baby Boomers said they want their medical appointments between zero and three days of booking, while Millennials and Gen X said they could wait between four and seven days.

What’s more, the survey indicated lack of timely care access could push patients out of a practice, making a business case for investing in convenient care access options.

Eighty-seven percent of respondents said they’d find another care provider if they could not get an appointment within their preferred window of time. Fifty percent said they’d visit in-person with another provider within the same practice, 35 percent would access an urgent care center, and 30 percent would try a telehealth visit with a different provider.

Although patients are looking to forward-looking, digital options for healthcare access, they do prefer more traditional modalities for certain types of care like an eventual COVID-19 vaccine. In total, 84 percent of respondents said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine once one becomes available, a promising figure considering the US sees an average of 81 percent of patients getting a flu shot each year.

A solid 48 percent of patients said they feel safest getting an eventual COVID-19 vaccine in their doctor’s office, with another 33 percent preferring the hospital and 29 percent a pharmacy.

Far fewer patients were interested in alternative care sites, which it should be noted tend to be more convenient. Only 7 percent of patients said they were comfortable getting a vaccine in a drive-thru vaccine site. Sixteen percent said they’d be comfortable in a grocery store walk-in clinic and 15 percent in a retail store walk-in clinic.

Other survey findings centered on how COVID-19 affected patient access to care. Overall, 62 percent of patients missed a medical appointment within the past 12 months, and over one-quarter (27 percent) cited COVID-19 as the main reason why.

There were some racial health disparities related to care access and missed appointments, the survey furthered, with Hispanic and Blacks patients more likely to miss an appointment this year than their White and Asian peers. Eighty-five percent of Hispanic patients and 74 percent of Black patients missed an appointment, compared to 57 percent of White patients and 44 percent of Asian patients.

Moving forward, providers may consider strategies for balancing digital and in-person patient access to care. Although patients have grown accustomed to telehealth, and the technology yields high patient satisfaction, there are still some forms of care patients would prefer to handle on an in-person basis.

Striking the balance between in-person care, digital care, and convenient care will be essential for provider financial bottom lines.

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