A Fresh Look at Telehealth Patient Demographics in 2019

Enzyme Health Team July 3, 2019
A Fresh Look at Telehealth Patient Demographics in 2019

Recent patient surveys shed light on who is using telemedicine, why they are using it, and how benefits and barriers to telehealth use are rapidly shifting as adoption grows. Explore the latest insights on telemedicine patients and find out what to expect the next time you pick up a telemedicine call.

Knowing more about who your patients are and what they’re looking for in their medical practitioners is important for any doctor or nurse to know, but it’s especially important in a field like telemedicine. With services growing and increased patient adoption, last year’s typical telemedicine patient may have changed dramatically in a short span of time. We’ve compiled the latest information about what telehealth patients look like in 2019, and their makeup might surprise you.

More Patients Than Ever Are Using Telehealth Services

Recent telehealth adoption statistics show a strong growing trend in favor of the service - According to a 2019 report from nonprofit FAIR Health, telehealth utilization grew 53% from 2016 to 2017 nationwide, more than any other service, including urgent care, retail clinics, ambulatory surgery centers, and ERs.

While mental health used to take up the largest share of telehealth work, it moved from first to fifth on the list, representing only 7% of insurance claim distribution. The top reasons people used telehealth services included injury (13%), acute respiratory infections (13%), digestive system issues (13%), and general signs and symptoms like fever, headache, and general malaise (9%).

Oklahoma, Wyoming, Ohio, Hawaii, and West Virginia were reported as the top states for telemedicine use when measured as a percentage of all medical claims in the state. None of these states appeared in the top 5 in 2016, meaning that services aren’t only growing within states, but across the country. Telemedicine used to be more commonly used in rural areas, but between 2012-2017, urban usage of telehealth grew by 1,289 percent versus rural growth, which has only increased by 482 percent.

Demographics of Telemedicine Users May Surprise You

While it may be natural to think that millennials are the heaviest users of telemedicine services, this isn’t necessarily the case. Most telehealth use is by patients within the age ranges of 31-60 (44% of all claim distributions). While 23 to 30-year-olds might be known for their heavy internet use, only 12% of them claimed distributions within the age group. The highest use in a 10-year age group was 51-60 (15%). In every age group (0-10 being the exception), women submitted more claims than men. This is also common with other medical claim lines, like urgent care centers and retail clinics.

Benefits of Telemedicine to Patients

Telehealth services are growing in popularity, and they are keeping patients from delaying medical care. According to a 2017 American Well survey, many people delay medical care due to cost (23%), the long time it takes to see a doctor (23%), their own busy schedules (13%), or because they think the problem will go away on its own (36%). The worst part about these statistics is that one-third of these patients were delaying serious care.

Luckily, two-thirds of consumers would be willing to see a doctor over video, and that number is continually increasing. Wait time is a major factor for why people are willing to make the switch. On average, it takes 24 days for patients to be seen by doctors, and the average doctor visit takes 121 minutes - 1/6 of that time is seeing the doctor, while the other 5/6 of the time is spent driving and waiting. Compare that to a telehealth visit, which can take around 15 minutes, and you can see the time-saving benefit for a patient willing to switch to a remote visit.

Telemedicine can also be friendly on a patient’s budget. Much of the time, telehealth services cost the same or less than a traditional visit. Even with time and money saved, patients see the benefit in remote health services. According to American Well, patients resolved their healthcare concerns 85% of the time with telehealth compared to just 64% in a brick-and-mortar setting. So, not only do patients see telemedicine as a service that can save time and money but also as more effective than an in-person visit.

When Patients Choose Telemedicine

Because telemedicine can save time, money, and worry, 65% of patients surveyed are very or somewhat interested in seeing their primary care provider via video visits. Twenty percent would even be willing to switch to another PCP for video visits if their current one didn’t offer them. The number of patients willing to switch PCPs because of video visits has grown from 17 million in 2015 to 50 million in 2017.

Telehealth services are seen as especially helpful for people with conditions that would require frequent visits, from both a time and money perspective. The American Well survey showed sixty percent would be willing to have regular video visits to manage chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease. People were also more willing to do post-surgical visits via video (52%). While telemedicine is not seen as the most appropriate service for middle-of-the-night care (20% versus 50% choosing the ER or 15% choosing a nurse line), it is increasing in acceptance in this area.

Video visits may not be the right fit for every condition, but people are increasingly considering it as a great option for managing ill and aging relatives (79% would find video visits helpful), prescription refills (78% would like to see their PCP prescribe refills through video), and birth control (half would want to get their birth control filled by a video visit).

You may be wondering if the people who are choosing telemedicine will stick with it as a preferred method of care in the future, or if the trend is only temporary. According to a recent telehealth patient satisfaction survey, 79% of respondents found telemedicine care was more convenient to schedule, 83% said the quality of care was the same or better than an in-person visit, and two-thirds felt a strong connection with their telehealth provider.

Patients prefer telemedicine care for a number of reasons. It saves time and money, is more convenient, and improves access to care, especially for patients in rural areas. These are reasons people would initially opt for remote care, but the satisfaction survey results indicate that they would want to continue to schedule appointments this way.

Barriers to Telehealth Adoption

Despite many patients willing to make the switch to video visits, there are still barriers that keep some from using telehealth services. The main reasons adults are hesitant to use telemedicine involve worrying that the care will be lower quality (47%), their health information won’t be as safe or they will be bogged down by technical issues during the appointment (39%), or that they won’t have adequate privacy (31%). It’s unlikely for everyone to become comfortable with telemedicine, but the trends in favor of its growth, and the benefits people are getting out of the care they receive, are encouraging indicators that usage will continue to grow.