Population Health Insights

Study Finds Telehealth Virtual Visits ‘Vastly Preferred to Office Visits by Patients’

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A study published in The American Journal of Managed Care in January 2019 has found that telehealth virtual visits offer a variety of benefits across the care continuum. Specifically, the study authors note that virtual video visits offer “enhanced convenience and reduced travel time” to patients, while clinicians are given the opportunity to “enhance connections with patients.”

To arrive at these findings, researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) — which has had a telehealth program in place since 2012, and a virtual visit service in place since 2013 — surveyed 254 of its unique patients and 61 attending physicians “to measure perceptions” of telehealth virtual visits as compared to traditional office visits.

A means of leveraging the popularity and widespread availability of consumer technology to let patients connect with clinicians from the comfort of home, virtual visits have emerged as one of the most popular and widespread telehealth applications in recent years. (Read more about the rising popularity of telehealth virtual visits here.)

With the availability of this technology becoming more and more prevalent, the authors noted the importance of best understanding its perceived value. To that end, the outcomes of the survey were striking, revealing that telehealth virtual visits “were vastly preferred to office visits by patients for convenience and travel time.”

Breaking Down the Findings from MGH's Study on Telehealth Virtual Visits

More specifically, the MGH study on virtual visits found that almost two-thirds of patients (62.6%) and more than half of the surveyed clinicians (59%) found no difference in “the overall quality of the visit,” meaning that, contrary to some lingering misperceptions in the healthcare industry that using telehealth means sacrificing quality of care to some degree.

“The fears of distracted, overwhelmed providers and a loss of human connection between patient and provider have been raised repeatedly with the rising use of computers in the doctor’s office,” the study authors note. “Interestingly, this issue was not a central concern to participants in our VVV [virtual video visits] program, perhaps due to the use of VVVs with established patients.”

The study’s key takeaways also included the findings that:

  • Patients not only highly rated their experience using telehealth virtual visits, but “the majority would recommend them to family and friends.”
  • The majority of patients and clinicians “perceived no loss of communication” when using virtual visits as compared to traditional office visits.
  • Patients so valued the added convenience and reduced travel time associated with virtual visits that they reported a willingness to pay additional co-payments for access to the service.

“Clinicians reported that virtual video visits are superior to office visits for timely scheduling of patient appointments (70.5 percent) and for visit efficiency (52.5 percent),” according to a news release announcing MGH’s virtual visits study.

The news release goes on to add some further details. Among surveyed patients, the study found that:

  • 79% found that scheduling follow-ups was easier using telehealth virtual video technology.
  • 21% felt that virtual visits offered better overall quality of care.
  • 68% rated virtual visits at “9 or 10 on a 10-point scale,” with those patients who offered lower ratings generally doing so because of technical issues that were immediately resolved with technical assistance.

How Virtual Care Benefits Patients, Clinicians & Facilities

Telehealth Virtual Visit Study: Key Takeaways

The study authors are careful to point out that their research does not represent a controlled study: The findings are drawn from internal results of the hospital’s first year of virtual visit implementation, focused on specialized avenues of care. Hence, the study may not “fully reflect the challenges or opportunities” of using virtual visits in primary care settings.

All the same, the significance of the findings is poised to assist facilities in the most efficient possible application of this important technology. “Although face-to-face interactions may be preferred in some circumstances by patients or clinicians,” the authors note, “the convenience of accessing healthcare consultations from the home or office may save lost time at home or work, travel time, and missed and rescheduled appointments.”

“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,” noted lead author Karen Donelan, ScD. “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.”

“This data represents the viability of alternative treatment access technology,” notes Xtelligent Healthcare Media's Sara Heath in an analysis of the telehealth virtual visit study. “As patients begin to embrace these nontraditional care access tools, healthcare providers must work to understand the context under which they should be utilized.”

“Virtual visits are an important and useful option in clinical care,” the authors conclude. “These visits are not just replacements for in-office visits; they hold the possibility of new avenues for care delivery, more frequent but shorter encounters, and opportunity for earlier intervention.”

Interested in learning more about how to leverage telehealth virtual visits to improve outcomes, efficiencies and patient satisfaction within your organization or facility? We’re standing by to fill in the details! Contact us here to schedule a complimentary consultation with a Care Innovations telehealth specialist.

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