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For Telehealth, Expansion Comes with Growing Pains

Analysis  |  By John Commins  
   October 05, 2021

A new J.D. Power survey suggests that service limitations, access hurdles, and quality-of-care issues dampen consumer enthusiasm.

The telehealth sector has seen broad expansion during the first 18 months of the coronavirus public health emergency, but that surge has been accompanied by growing pains, one survey shows.

J.D. Power's newly released 2021 U.S. Telehealth Satisfaction Study identified service limitations, access hurdles, and quality-of-care issues have dampened consumer enthusiasm for telehealth.

The survey showed that while 36% of the more than 4,600 respondents said they'd used telehealth in the past year – up from 9% in 2020 and 7% in 2010 -- overall satisfaction with both direct-to-consumer and payer-sponsored telehealth services decline in 2021 from 2020.

The top annoyances among consumers included limited services (24%); lack of awareness of costs (15%); confusing technology requirements (15%); and lack of information about providers (15%).

"It's impossible to ignore that 36% of the healthcare customers we measure within our research have used telehealth services this year—which is four times higher than a year ago," said James Beem, managing director of global healthcare intelligence at the Troy, Michigan-based consumer data analytics firm.

"However, digging deeper into the research, it's clear that customer satisfaction has declined during the same period, with many users citing limited access to the services they need and inconsistencies in the care they receive," he said. "As the industry grows, it is critical to address these challenges."

Among the findings in the new survey:

  • Telehealth adoption spikes across all generations in 2021: Overall, 36% of patients have accessed telehealth services during the past year, up from just 9% in 2020 and 7% in 2019. Usage is consistent across all generational groups, with the highest usage among members of Generation Y and Pre-Boomers.
     
  • Convenience, speed and safety drive utilization: The top reasons for telehealth utilization are convenience (57%); ability to receive care quickly (47%); and safety (36%).
     
  • Patient satisfaction declines as pain points emerge: Overall satisfaction with both direct-to-consumer and payer-sponsored telehealth services decline in 2021 from 2020. The most frequently cited barriers encountered by patients are limited services (24%); lack of awareness of costs (15%); confusing technology requirements (15%); and lack of information about providers (15%).
     
  • Uneven care for higher-risk patients: Overall satisfaction is 85 points lower (on a 1,000-point scale) among patients with the lowest self-reported health status than among patients who consider themselves to be in excellent health. Similarly, healthier patients are more likely than less healthy patients to understand the information provided during the visit; say they receive clear explanations; perceive that their visits are highly personalized; and obtain high-quality diagnoses.

Telehealth Providers Ranked

Among the major providers of telehealth, Teladoc was ranked highest in customer satisfaction among direct-to-consumer brands, with a score of 874. MDLIVE (868) ranks second and MyTelemedicine (859) ranks third.

UnitedHealthcare ranks highest among payers of health plan-provided telehealth services with a score of 868. Humana (865) and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan (865) rank second in a tie.

The survey, now in its third year, measures customer service, consultation, enrollment, and billing and payment, and is based on responses of 4,676 consumers in July and June who used a telehealth service within the past year.

“It's clear that customer satisfaction has declined during the same period, with many users citing limited access to the services they need and inconsistencies in the care they receive. As the industry grows, it is critical to address these challenges.”

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Overall, 36% of patients have accessed telehealth services during the past year, up from just 9% in 2020 and 7% in 2019.

Usage is consistent across all generational groups, with the highest usage among members of Generation Y and Pre-Boomers.

Overall satisfaction with both direct-to-consumer and payer-sponsored telehealth services decline in 2021 from 2020.

Barriers encountered by patients include: limited services; lack of awareness of costs; confusing tech requirements; and lack of information about providers.


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