- Telehealth is a considerable driver of patient satisfaction, meeting patient expectations for convenient care access and care quality, according to new data from Massachusetts General Hospital. In fact, patient approval for telehealth may trump that of their providers, the study showed.
Experts have long touted telehealth as useful for connecting patients to care when they otherwise could face serious hurdles in care access. Patients who live far away from the hospital, who have demanding work schedules, or who have numerous family obligations tend to benefit from telehealth treatment access.
Because of those assertions, it was unsurprising that patients offered telehealth care access were satisfied with its convenience, said Karen Donelan, ScD, a senior scientist at MGH and the study’s lead author.
“Some of the participants in our study were parents of children who needed multiple frequent visits or older patients for whom travel was difficult to arrange,” Donelan said. “It did not surprise us that they found virtual visits more convenient, but we were impressed that nearly all perceived the quality of care or communication to be the same or better than at the traditional and familiar office visits.”
Seventy-nine percent of study participants said it was easier to schedule a convenient appointment time for a telehealth follow-up visit than for a clinic visit.
And along with satisfaction about the scheduling process, patients said telehealth visits were also high-quality. Sixty-two percent of patients said the quality of care via telehealth was the same as in-person visits. Twenty-one percent said the quality of telehealth visits was better than in-person visits.
Patients also reported meaningful connections with their providers even when using video visits. Sixty-six percent of patients said they had strong personal connections with their providers using telehealth.
Overall, patient satisfaction with telehealth was high. Sixty-eight percent of patients rated their telehealth visits a nine or ten on a ten-point satisfaction scale. When a patient rated lower than a nine, it was usually due to a technical difficulty that MGH said was resolved before the visits was completed.
Conversely, physicians still put high value on in-person visits. Although 59 percent of clinicians delivering telehealth thought the technology was appropriate for their patients’ needs and of equal quality to in-person visits, some still had reservations.
One-third of providers maintained that office visits provided higher care quality than telehealth.
Additionally, 46 percent of clinicians said in-office visits facilitated deeper patient-provider connections than telehealth visits.
Clinicians did agree that telehealth was instrumental in offering convenient and timely follow-up care visits. Seventy percent said telehealth helped them see patients in a timely manner while 50 percent said telehealth was efficient.
That said, clinicians cautioned that telehealth is not useful for all patients. Some patients require in-person care, and healthcare professionals must be mindful of that as they access this more efficient technology.
Ultimately, this data represents the viability of alternative treatment access technology. Eighty-nine percent of patients said they had ailments that could have been seen on an in-person basis. However, 60 percent said a telephone call also would have sufficed, 31 percent said a secure message may have been adequate, and 20 percent said their needs could have been met with text message communication.
As patients begin to embrace these nontraditional care access tools, healthcare providers must work to understand the context under which they should be utilized. As noted above, some patients are best served by an in-person visit, and clinicians must identify those patients and give patients the information to make that determination themselves.
This data also highlights what is important to the patient – face time with their clinicians.
Patient satisfaction reports highlight that patients are satisfied with their clinical care, but are let down in the waiting room or traveling long distances to the office, said Lee Schwamm, MD, director of the MGH Center for Telehealth, of the MGH Comprehensive Stroke Center, and executive vice chairman of the Department of Neurology.
“Our findings confirm what I felt in my gut, which is that what patients’ value most is uninterrupted time with their doctor, and they put up with all the other challenges required to come see us,” Schwamm concluded. “Telehealth gives them more of what they want most and gets rid of the stuff they don’t want. With a telehealth visit, 95 percent of the time spent by the patient is face-to-face with the doctor, compared to less than 20 percent of a traditional visit, in which most time is spent traveling and waiting. Seen through that lens, our results are not surprising.”