Health insurance

A Blue Cross survey says many who try telehealth become frequent users


Telemedicine is catching on in many parts of New York and patients who have experienced seeing a doctor online tend be frequent users, says a new survey from Excellus Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

The survey of 2,000 consumers by Excellus Blue Cross, the biggest health insurer covering western and central New York and surrounding areas, says nearly five out of 10 upstate New York adults are aware of telemedicine and 80% of those who have used telemedicine rate their experience as “very good” or “excellent.”

In January, Excellus rolled out a telehealth program using the services of MDLive Medical Group, a telehealth platform developer and service provider based in Sunrise, Fla., with a network of 800 doctors. Based on survey results, about one-quarter of survey respondents indicated that they plan to use telemedicine in the future, while an equal number said they did not plan to do so. About half of the respondents were undecided.

“Our repeated promotions around a telemedicine option have been very clear, and ideal medical care is when a patient can see his or her doctor,” says Excellus Blue Cross senior vice president and corporate medical officer Martin Lustick. “We’ve said the second best choice, if available, is a telemedicine visit with their physician. A new option we’ve been suggesting is to consider a telemedicine visit with another provider for treatment of minor conditions. With time, we expect that will gain in popularity over going to an urgent care center.”

Patients who tried a digital visit to the doctor’s office tend be frequent users—and tend to use telehealth on weekdays. Among patients who have tried telemedicine, the average number of times they’ve used the service is five. 79% of frequent users of telehealth do so on weekdays, mainly between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., according to the survey.

Convenience was the biggest reason patients used telehealth at 48%, followed by cost of visit (34%), available outside of normal hours (31%), traveling (23%), not able to leave work (19%) and other 3%.

Other survey findings include:

  • Approximately one-third of upstate New York respondents between 18 and 44 plan to use telemedicine, but interest in using telemedicine declines with age.
  • Preference for in-person interaction is the main reason why consumers don’t use telemedicine.
  • Immediate or same-day appointment availability is the most important feature to 85% of respondents.
  • 60% of unemployed patients plan to use telehealth compared with 47% of employed patients and 50% of retired patients.
  • Respondents who reported that they had either used or were familiar with telemedicine were asked their first and second choice for having any future minor medical condition needs addressed. An in-person visit with their doctor ranked highest, followed by a telemedicine visit. Use of an urgent care center, and a telemedicine visit with a provider other than their own doctor ranked third and fourth. Going to a hospital emergency room ranked last as a preference for treating minor conditions.

“Telemedicine services are widely and quickly being made available in the region, so we thought it was important to get a handle on levels of awareness that exist and regional responses to a broad spectrum of related questions,” Lustick says.

 



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