Providers also cited their ability to provide quality care and technical difficulties as among their top frustrations with telehealth, a new survey shows.
More than half of providers (55 percent) said that managing unrealistic patient expectations for their virtual visit is a top frustration of providing telehealth services, according to a new survey.
Commissioned by UnitedHealth Group’s Optum and conducted using Qualtrics software, the survey polled 240 healthcare providers between Oct. 25 and Nov. 2, 2021. About 75 percent of survey respondents practiced primary care, 18 percent practiced specialty care and 4 percent urgent care.
Along with unrealistic patient expectations, respondents noted that the quality of care they are able to provide via telehealth (58 percent) and quality of audio/video technology (50 percent) are key sources of frustration.
Only 25 percent said their job satisfaction improved due to using telehealth, and 23 percent said that patient health improved. Providers are also divided regarding telehealth’s effect on burnout, with 30 percent saying it increases and another 30 percent saying it decreases their feelings of burnout.
Despite these challenges, providers see the value in telehealth for their patients, with 90 percent saying it offers patients convenience and 52 percent reporting telehealth makes it easier for patients to find an appointment time.
Also, 44 percent of providers said that they are still exclusively using telehealth, up from 31 percent who said the same at the peak of the pandemic. Ninety-three percent of providers said they are somewhat or very likely to continue to use telehealth after the pandemic.
Primary care appears to be the most common telehealth visit type, with 75 percent of providers saying they provide primary care virtually. About 72 percent said they use telehealth for chronic care, 64 percent for prescription refills, and 39 percent for COVID-19 screenings.
Over a third (36 percent) of respondents said they used telehealth for mental healthcare. Patient demand for telemental healthcare has risen dramatically during the pandemic. Kaiser Family Foundation researchers found that between 2019 and 2021, the portion of telehealth outpatient visits related to a mental health or substance use diagnosis increased each year, going from 11 percent in 2019 to 39 percent in 2021.
With regard to telehealth modality, providers said that patient preference for video and audio is similarly high. Eighty-eight percent of providers said their patients accessed telehealth via video, and 80 percent said their patients used the phone. Only 30 percent of providers said their patients used secure messaging, 7 percent said they used text messaging, and 3 percent reported their patients used chatbots.
Though telehealth use, mainly through video and audio, remains high, providers identified several areas of improvement in the telehealth experience.
Around 40 percent of providers said better audio/video technology would enhance virtual visits. In addition, 35 percent said the ability to integrate telehealth with their EMR, and 23 percent said a user-friendly mobile app version of telehealth platforms would help.
With the extension of telehealth flexibilities for five months after the public health emergency, and numerous bills winding their way through Congress, it is clear that a permanent pathway to expanded telehealth use is being paved. Thus, providers and IT developers must continue to fine-tune virtual care.
“As we slowly come out of the pandemic, returning to operating the way we were pre-pandemic should not be the norm,” said Puneet Maheshwari, co-founder and CEO of DocASAP at Optum, in the news release. “Telehealth has proven to be a valuable and convenient asset for patients accessing care, so providers and technology vendors need to continue improving on the technology itself as well as the virtual care processes.”