Sixty-seven percent of surveyed consumers age 45-64 would use telehealth for chronic care management; 79% say video telehealth services would be beneficial in coordinating and administering care of ill and aging relatives

According to a newly released survey, there is a growing interest in telehealth services among healthcare consumers in the US. It’s safe to assume that millennials and “X’ers” are driving this trend. But what does it mean for clinical laboratories?

If certain patients are selecting practices based on digital access to their primary care doctors and medical information, isn’t it also likely those patients also will want similar digital access to their medical laboratory in several dimensions? For example, to:

• Check prices of lab tests in advance of service;

• Book appointments to provide specimens; and

• See clinical laboratory test results; in addition to

• Consulting digitally with an expert from the medical laboratory that performed their tests.

Are we witnessing the start of a new consumer demand: the blending of traditional telehealth with prescription/procedure/test results transparency? If so, this could be an opportunity for medical laboratories and pathology groups to get ahead of the curve on a trend that would impact all of healthcare.

Patients Increasingly Choosing PCPs with Telehealth Services

In January, American Well (AW) released the results of their report, “Telehealth Index: 2017 Consumer Survey.” According to the survey, 20% of individuals polled stated they would consider changing their primary care physician (PCP) if another PCP offered telehealth services and their current one did not. That extrapolates, the report notes, to approximately 50-million people in the US who base their choice of healthcare providers on access to telehealth services.

By comparison, a previous AW report stated that, in 2015, only 17-million people said they would switch PCPs over the issue of telemedicine. This is evidence that consumer demand is growing for telehealth services.

“Consumers are clearly interested in more convenient access to healthcare, and increasingly they are even willing to switch providers to get internet video service. Not only that, but consumers are willing to try telehealth for many needs, from chronic conditions to post-discharge follow up,” said Mary Modahl, Chief Marketing Officer, American Well, in a press release. “Health systems and provider groups must take note if you haven’t already. 2017 is the year to put a secure telehealth platform in place.”

The graphic above, taken from the American Well “Telehealth Index: 2017 Consumer Survey” illustrates the growing popularity of telehealth services among Americans. (Image copyright: American Well.)

The graphic above, taken from the American Well “Telehealth Index: 2017 Consumer Survey” illustrates the growing popularity of telehealth services among Americans. (Image copyright: American Well.)

The surveys used for the report were conducted in August and September of 2016 by The Harris Poll on behalf of American Well. More than 4,000 adults in the US completed the online survey.

Virtual Doctor Visits Preferable for Late Night, Post-Surgery, and Chronic Care

The report indicates that changing to a physician who offers telehealth services is most prevalent among parents of minor children and individuals in the 35- to 44-year-old age range. In addition:

•  67% of consumers in the 45-64 age range said they would be interested in visiting an online telehealth physician to manage a chronic health condition;

• 60% articulated interest in video doctor visits for chronic care management;

• 79% of caregivers indicated that video telehealth services would be beneficial in coordinating and administering the care of ill and aging relatives;

• 20% of those polled stated they would prefer video visits for care needed during late night hours; and

• 52% stressed an interest in telehealth services for routine follow-up guidance after surgical procedures.

More than half the women polled stated they would prefer to get birth control prescriptions via video doctor visits. And, 78% of all consumers polled said they would be willing to have ongoing prescriptions filled through telehealth services.

Participants in the survey also were questioned about what type of remote doctor visit they believed would result in the most accurate diagnosis: video, telephone, or e-mail:

• 69% believed video visits would be more accurate;

• 26% chose telephone visits; and

• 5% selected e-mail.

The report found that at least 65% of healthcare consumers are “very interested” or “somewhat interested” in seeing their PCP through online video visits. That’s a significant majority, which indicates a strong preference for remote video and online Internet-based healthcare experiences among a class of healthcare consumers who are increasingly choosing to not seek treatment.

Digital Access to Providers Could Remove Reasons to Delay Seeking Care

Clinical laboratories, healthcare professionals, and payers, in addition to consumers, can all appreciate the need for telemedicine. According to the AW report, 67% of consumers delay seeking care for a health issue. The most common stated reasons for delaying treatment were cost, time, and the belief that problems would resolve themselves without medical intervention. Delays that could result in more serious health conditions and costly consequences for patients.

In a February interview with Healthcare IT News, Roy Schoenberg, MD, CEO of American Well, described how his company views telemedicine as a 3-legged stool.

“The first leg is consumer telehealth, where a patient gets himself in front of a care professional,” explained Schoenberg. “The second leg is used by clinicians to follow-up with their patients. And the third leg is how the technology is used to enable much more efficient work and communication between clinicians. These are efficiencies achieved within large health systems. That is where, for example, one clinician in an emergency room can acquire a neurologist consultation for a patient just wheeled in.”

Schoenberg added that interest in telehealth and the understanding of its benefits is consistently growing among medical professionals and consumers.

“Telehealth viewed merely as a product is a very outdated view of what telehealth can do,” Schoenberg said. “You have to think about telehealth as an operating system for the way you are doing things, as foundational as an EHR.”

Because more patients are selecting their PCPs based on digital access, it’s reasonable to assume these individuals will eventually demand similar digital access to clinical laboratories as well. Consumers could utilize telemedicine to not only check the cost of lab tests, schedule appointments, and view their test results—which some blood laboratory patient portals, such as Quest’s, already can do—but also to consult directly with laboratory professionals and pathologists about tests and results.

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Telehealth Index: 2017 Consumer Survey

Telehealth Increasingly Seen as Criteria for Choosing Primary Doc, Study Finds

One in Five Consumers Would Switch to a Doctor That Offers Telehealth Visits

American Well Will Allow Telemedicine Patients to Pick Their Doctor

Should You Use Telehealth? The Pros and Cons of Joining Medicine with Technology

10 Pros and Cons of Telemedicine

Telehealth: When Technology Meets Health Care

American Well Offers a Sneak Peek at Its HIMSS17 Telehealth Debuts

Cleveland Clinic Gives Patients Statewide 24/7 Access to Physicians through Smartphones, iPads, Tablets, and Online: Will Telemedicine Also Involve Pathologists?

CMS Issues New Telemedicine Guidelines and Approves Seven New Procedures in Move to Further Encourage Telehealth Initiatives

Mayo Clinic Pilots Use of Telemedicine Kiosks for Its Employees, but Will Pathologists Be Included to Provide Medical Consultations?