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AHIP Survey Says Telehealth is Popular Because of Its Convenience

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   December 02, 2022

The survey of 1,000 commercially insured consumers finds that they used telehealth because it's more convenient than a trip to the doctor's office, but frequency is still an issue.

Convenience is still the top reason that consumers enrolled in commercial insurance plans use telehealth, and most would like Congress to make sure it stays that way.

Almost 70 percent of respondents to a survey commissioned by America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) in October said they've used telehealth during the past year because it's more convenient that a trip to the doctor's office, clinic, or hospital. And almost 80% say telehealth makes it easier for them to access care when they need it.

“Patients and providers accept – and often prefer – digital technologies as an essential part of health care delivery,” Jeanette Thornton, AHIP's executive vice president of policy and strategy, said in a press release announcing the survey of 1,000 consumers, which was conducted by NORC and the University of Chicago. “Telehealth can be just as effective as in-person care for many conditions and allows patients to receive more services ‘where they are.’ That’s why health insurance providers are committed to strengthening and improving both access and use for the millions of Americans who use telehealth for their healthcare needs.”

The news isn't earth-shattering, as many surveys have highlighted consumer preference for telehealth, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. But it does add to the library of evidence that consumers will seek out a healthcare provider or health plan that features telehealth, and it reinforces the need for hybrid care strategies that allow for a choice between virtual and in-person care when available and appropriate.

That's especially true of women, who were almost four times more likely than men to say they used telehealth because they lacked childcare or eldercare services.

Overall, 46 percent of those surveyed said they used telehealth because they weren't able to schedule an in-person appointment, while 24% said they wanted to save money and 23% used telehealth because their doctor's office was closed (a nod to the value of telehealth for after-hours and weekend care).

Among other data points, 85% of those surveyed said there are an adequate number of care providers available to them via telehealth for the needs they have, an indication that virtual care is helping to alleviate the provider shortage and improving access.

And telehealth use among the low-to-middle income brackets is about the same or slightly higher than use in the higher income ($100,000+) bracket. That might mean telehealth is helping to address gaps in care experienced by lower income consumers, or it may conversely highlight the fact that lower-income consumers aren't able or willing to take advantage of telehealth.

The latter would seem more likely. According to the survey, 36% of respondents used telehealth just once over the past year, while 53% used it between two and five times, 4% used it between five and 10 times and 5% used it more than 10 times. This means telehealth adoption is still on the low end, even after the pandemic.

Telehealth use had surged during the pandemic, as healthcare organizations sought to push as many services as possible onto virtual care platforms to reduce traffic at hospitals and insulate both patients and providers from COVID-19. Providers were helped in this fashion by state and federal legislation, as well as waivers from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) aimed at boosting access to and reimbursement for telehealth during the public health emergency (PHE). Many of those orders and waivers will expire when the PHE ends sometime next year, which could greatly affect telehealth use as health systems cut back their services.

Telehealth advocates are pressing Congress to make those waivers permanent, and consumers are behind that effort. According to the survey, 73% said Congress should act to make sure those waivers stay in place.

Eric Wicklund is the Innovation and Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

According to a survey commissioned by America's Health Insurance Plans, almost 70% used telehealth in the past year because it's more convenient than in-person care, and almost 80% say telehealth makes it easier to seek out care.

Almost 50% used telehealth because they were unable to make an in-person appointment, while 24% said they wanted to save money.

Some 36% used telehealth just once over the past year, while 53% used it between two and five times.


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