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Analysis

Telehealth: Consumers Just Don't Know About You! Lessons for Health Systems

By Mandy Roth  
   October 28, 2019

While consumers give virtual care high rankings, according to a study from J.D. Powers, lack of awareness presents a huge obstacle to success.

As more hospitals and health systems push forward with telehealth initiatives, a new consumer study from J.D. Power provides clues about how to provide these services more effectively to increase adoption. In short, telehealth programs need to increase awareness, expedite the enrollment process, and decrease the wait time before a consultation takes place.  

Only 10% of healthcare consumers are using telehealth services, according to J.D. Power, which released the results of the study at HLTH, the healthcare innovation conference currently underway in Las Vegas. Industry experts agree that slow adoption rates present an obstacle to success. Earlier this year, Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of the telehealth association ATA, told HealthLeaders, "It's safe to say there's a lot of technology available, but the adoption engagement is really lacking."

However, as reimbursement improves, more evidence emerges supporting the theory that telehealth can lower costs, and others are using low-cost telehealth services to drive patients into their systems, the practice is gaining traction.

The J.D. Power 2019 U.S. Telehealth Satisfaction Study offers a glimpse into why consumers have been slow on the uptake, particularly in light of the fact that those who do use it report a high degree of satisfaction, according to the study.

Those Who Use It Like It

Customer satisfaction with telehealth services is high, according to J.D. Powers. On a 1,000-point scale, overall customer satisfaction scored an 851. Nearly half of consumers (46%) scored it 900 points or more. "These customer satisfaction scores are among the highest of all healthcare, insurance, and financial services industry studies conducted by J.D. Power," according to a news release. "Only direct banking customer satisfaction ranks higher, with an average score of 855."

People Don't Know Telehealth Is Available

The biggest issue appears to be a communications challenge: People simply are not aware that virtual care is an option. Among those who have not used telehealth, 37% say they do not know if it is offered by their health provider or health system, and 29% of survey participants say that telehealth is not available to them. This combination totals 66% of those surveyed. In rural areas, only 25% say that they have access to virtual care.

"Providers must critically look at how they’re driving awareness and utilization to assure patients know that virtual care is a viable, quality option,” says Stephany Verstraete, chief engagement officer, Teladoc. About 300 hospitals and health systems use Teladoc's platform, and the study ranks the company the highest in telehealth satisfaction among direct-to-consumer brands.

The Power of Word of Mouth

J.D. Power says that positive word of mouth is key to increasing adoption. The proof: Positive recommendations from others led nearly two-thirds (65%) of telehealth users to try the service. Where are they getting this advice?

  • 22% heard about it from a friend, family, or colleague
     
  • 21% from their health plan
     
  • 21% from their primary care physician
     
  • 18% from their employer
     
  • 15% through their health plan, hospital, or another provider

"The J.D. Power study reinforces what we have long known —quality care via virtual care makes patients repeat users," says Verstraete.

Speed Things Up

Saving consumers time is one of the advantages touted by telehealth services. Yet it appears a transaction takes longer than the time an individual expects to be on the phone with a provider. Survey participants reported their average experience lasted 44 minutes. This includes 17 minutes to complete the enrollment process, nine minutes to wait for a physician or nurse practitioner, and 18 minutes for the actual consultation, according to the study. Most (87%) described the enrollment process as somewhat or very easy.

"Currently, telehealth users are relatively dissatisfied with the amount of time the process takes," says J.D. Powers, "but providers compensate for it with the quality and convenience of care provided."

Telehealth Works

Some 84% of consumers participating in the survey said they were able to completely resolve their medical concerns during their visit. In addition, 73% experienced no issues or problems during their experience.

J.D. Power Compares Telehealth to Mobile Banking

Greg Truex, managing director of health intelligence at J.D. Power compares the current state of telehealth to the early days of mobile banking. “Early attempts at trying to convince consumers to bank via their phone failed, and initiatives were abruptly canceled," he says in a news release. "Now, with mobile banking apps having grown to become the third-most-used application among consumers, we expect telehealth to follow a similar path. Telehealth offers an alternative avenue to receive quality care that is cost efficient and accessible. Once providers and payers refine the formula for awareness and adoption, telehealth will change the landscape of how affordable and quality care is delivered.” 

Study Rankings

The survey also ranked payers who offer telehealth services tied to their health plans, as well as direct-to-consumer telehealth services. It did not examine health systems or hospitals who may use private label versions from the companies who offer direct-to-consumer service.  

According to J.D. Power, three payers were closely tied for the top ranking. On the 1,000-point scale:

  • Humana ranks highest among payers of health plan-provided telehealth services with a score of 864
     
  • Kaiser Foundation Health Plan ranks second with 863 points
     
  • Cigna ranks third with 862 points

Among direct-to-consumer providers:

  • Teladoc ranks highest in telehealth satisfaction among direct-to-consumer brands, with a score of 870
     
  • Doctor on Demand ranks second with 867 points
     
  • MDLIVE ranks third with 847 points

Study Overview

According to J.D. Power, the inaugural Telehealth Satisfaction Study measures health consumer satisfaction with their telehealth service experience based on four factors. In order of importance, these include customer service (45%), consultation (28%), enrollment (19%), and billing and payment (9%). The study is based on responses of 8,296 health consumers who used a telehealth service within the past 12 months. It was fielded in August through September 2019.

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments from Teladoc.]

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Those who've tried telehealth like it, with an overall score of 851 on a 1,000-point scale.

66% say they are not aware of telehealth services or it is not available to them.

Word of mouth is key: positive recommendations from others led 65% of telehealth users to try the service


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