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Telehealth Visits Skyrocket Among Americans Age 50-80

Analysis  |  By Alexandra Wilson Pecci  
   August 18, 2020

A new poll reveals several threats and opportunities for the future of telehealth among older Americans.

The percentage of older adults who had ever participated in a telehealth visit rose from 4% in May 2019 to 30% in June 2020, according to the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging.

However, the poll also found that these patients still considered in-office visits more effective, and many of them had no choice but to see their doctor via telehealth.

Nearly half of those who had a telehealth visit said their healthcare provider canceled or rescheduled an in-person visit between March and June, and 30% said that a virtual visit was the only option when they called to schedule an appointment.

Examining this year's poll, and comparing it to last year's poll, revealed several threats and opportunities for the future of telehealth among older Americans.

Opportunity: Concerns are easing, access is increasing

In 2020, far fewer people—24%—said they had concerns about privacy during a telehealth visit than they did in 2019 (49%).

Access is also increasing, with 62% of respondents now saying that at least one of their health providers offer telehealth visits, up from 14% in 2019.

Threat: A lack of technology experience

Despite the growth in telehealth visits among older Americans, 17% of them say they have never used any sort of video conferencing tool for any reason, including medical care.

Still, that's 11 percentage points lower than in the 2019 poll.

Opportunity: Those who had a telehealth visit said they were easy

Among those who had a telehealth visit this past spring, 91% said it was easy to connect with their doctor.

More people (64%) also said they feel very or somewhat comfortable with video conferencing technologies, up from 53% in 2019.

In addition, fewer people thought they would have trouble seeing or hearing the provider during a video visit: Just 25% in 2020, compare to 39% in 2019.

Threat: Many older Americans prefer in-person visits

Despite their growing ease with and use of telehealth, there was almost no change between last year's and this year's poll in the percentage of respondents who said they would feel comfortable seeing a provider for the first time via a virtual visit.

That number remained relatively low, at about one in three.

Similarly, the percentage—about two-thirds—of people who felt that the quality of care in a telehealth visit was not as good remained unchanged between 2019 and 2020.

Opportunity: Telehealth comfort grows with providers they've seen before

Despite a preference for in-person visits, especially for a first visit, more older adults are interested in using telehealth to connect with a provider they had seen before: 72% in 2020, up from 58% in 2019.

A greater percentage (63%) also say they're interested in using telehealth for a one-time follow-up appointment after a procedure or operation than in 2019 (55%).

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.

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