COVID-19 Moves Telemedicine into the Spotlight

Telehealth has been steadily gaining traction for the past decade, but the COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly accelerated its demand and adoption in the U.S., with predictions that 2020 will see 80 percent year-over-year growth in this industry. 

Despite telehealth’s recent exponential growth, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for people in need of care — and that’s especially true for those living with a chronic health condition. 

Individual judgments on in-person care 

According to proprietary research conducted by Healthline Media between May 9 and May 12, 2020, 59 percent of Americans who have sheltered in place during COVID-19 had a healthcare-related need for which they would normally visit a doctor. These included a broad range of concerns, including check-ups, prescription refills, dental care, mental health needs, follow-up appointments from surgeries or illnesses, new injuries, chronic conditions and more. 

Our research revealed that more than one-third (37 percent) of those surveyed were forced to reschedule or postpone an in-person appointment, and 33 percent used telemedicine. An overwhelming 85 percent said it was the first time they had tried telemedicine. 

Based on our analysis, people’s approach to in-person versus virtual healthcare depended on the urgency and severity of their specific health needs, as well as the risks of accessing care. Many patients still opted for in-person care by going to a doctor’s office (27 percent) or visiting a hospital or urgent care center (16 percent). About one-fifth (19 percent) handled their healthcare on their own.

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Spike in telemedicine among those with chronic conditions

Compared with their peers, people who are managing a chronic condition were apt to make slightly different decisions in accessing healthcare, our research reveals.

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Though people living with a chronic condition have a vast range of experiences, our data show that the most common way they managed their condition between March and May 2020 was through telemedicine (45 percent). Only 8 percent had used it before — a significant uptick that lays bare the swiftly changing approach to care during the pandemic.

Through ongoing conversations with this community, we heard consumers express mixed feelings regarding in-person appointments. Though patients liked being able to stay safely at home, many felt the literal lack of personal touch. 

Tanya P., living with breast cancer, said she is “missing the physical examination aspects of seeing the doctors in person. The last time I saw my doctor, she did a breast check to see if the size of the tumor had changed since I started treatment.” On the other hand, Nan M., who lives with rheumatoid arthritis, said, “Telemedicine video visits have been good for me. They have saved time and money, and I am safely in my home.” 

Overall, reactions were mixed, with some patients being very welcoming of telemedicine and others strongly opposed.

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Younger people more likely to embrace telemedicine

Though advances in telemedicine can help eliminate barriers to care, Healthline research shows that certain demographic factors are still at play. Younger people — specifically those between the ages of 18 and 34 — are more likely to have tried telemedicine over the past few months as shelter-in-place orders were mandated across the country. This aligns with recent broad data showing that telehealth has been more readily adapted by this generation.

Easier for younger adults: “Being a Millennial means I've been doing this computer stuff my whole life, so this is fine.” — Hailey P, moderate/severe asthma

Education and income levels also appear to impact people’s access to telemedicine. Adults with more education and higher income showed a higher likelihood of using telemedicine. We found no significant differences by ethnicity.

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Nuanced experiences and shifting behaviors

Though our research reveals broad insights and themes around convenience factors and patient engagement, it also shows how much the specific condition (breast cancer, MS, etc.), health need (symptoms, routine check, blood work, etc.), healthcare provider, and life factors (parenting, transportation, cost, etc.) are at play in each individual’s perspective toward telemedicine. 

Marketers and brands would do well to pay attention to the range of potential experiences their consumers are having. They should also take note that consumer behaviors are evolving and shifting. For some, telemedicine is a short-term approach; others plan to incorporate telemedicine into their routine healthcare management in the future. 

Acknowledging and catering to their experiences can help brands continue to meet consumers where they are along their health journeys.

“Having advocated for telehealth for years, I've seen it explode more this year than recent decades. Now, I have optimism that people understand the value and convenience it offers to patients and providers. Hopefully, we'll see market incentives that keep telehealth around even after COVID-19 passes.” —Dr. Hanh Le, Chief Medical Officer, Healthline

For more information about this research, please email us at corpmarketing@healthline.com or contact your Healthline Media representative.

Source: Healthline COVID-19 Survey, N=1001 US adults, May 9-12, 2020; Healthline Online Insights Community, N=49 people living with a health condition, April-June, 2020.

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