Feb 24 2021
Patient-Centered Care

How Do Patients View Virtual Care?

Research identifies increased acceptance, but also ways to improve virtual care to better meet patients’ needs.

The digital transformation sweeping through healthcare has had a profound impact on the way consumers expect technology to improve their care experience.

Two surveys from Deloitte, conducted in 2020 and focused on U.S. healthcare consumers, show that patients are more comfortable with technology-enabled services such as virtual care and remote monitoring — but they aren’t always satisfied with the process or the information they receive.

Healthcare organizations must understand patient expectations if they hope to deploy digital experiences in meaningful ways. Such services could range from user-friendly telehealth experiences to remote home monitoring devices integrated with electronic health records.

Deloitte’s research documented not only the rise in virtual visits that occurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also consumers’ desire to continue using telehealth. The study also found that more consumers are willing to share their data while participating in technology-enhanced healthcare.

“The signals are relatively clear, in general, that patients’ expectations have now been set that virtual is a reasonable option to in-person care, and providers will need to continue to offer alternative channels where it makes sense,” says David Betts, a principal at Deloitte.

Patients Report Mixed Views on the Value of Virtual Care

Beyond simply making digital tools and services available, however, providers also need to build trust with patients that virtual care provides the same value as in-person care. The study suggests that this aspect of virtual care is still a substantial hurdle.

Deloitte’s research, for example, indicated that more than half (56 percent) of respondents don’t believe they get the same quality of care or value from a virtual visit as from an in-person visit.

“We believe healthcare organizations need to continue to evolve their capabilities for leveraging human-centered design tools to really better understand the needs of their patients and how they want to use technology to engage,” Betts says.

Too often, he says, design decisions are made and tools developed that solve the problems for the system, but do not address the challenges that consumers are wrestling with.

“Going forward, better addressing the latent unmet needs of individuals relative to their care experience is going to be more important than addressing the stated needs alone,” Betts notes. “There are still lessons to be learned for the healthcare sector from how consumer-obsessed organizations understand their customers.”

RELATED: Telehealth leads to positive outcomes in patient behavior.

Seamless Tools and Staff Training Can Improve Virtual Visits

Deloitte Research Manager Leslie Korenda notes that although most clinical leaders say they are tracking patient experience and utilization metrics related to virtual health, measurements related to quality of care and team experience are lagging.

“Our research has shown that training clinicians and support staff to ensure patients get the same quality care experience as patients who have face-to-face visits is going to be vital,” she says.

Korenda points to a 2020 Deloitte survey of U.S. physicians, in which 85 percent of surveyed physicians said training to improve virtual visit skills is essential, but absent.

Having the right tools in place to stitch together an experience across the care continuum — one that makes sense from a consumer’s perspective — also will be critical, Betts says.

That will require seamless integration of applications and at-home self-diagnostic tests, both areas where consumer uptake is on the rise, according to Deloitte’s research.

“Ultimately, it’s about creating a user-friendly experience,” says Korenda. “Our internal research shows consumers are frustrated that their digital experience in heathcare isn’t even close to those in other industries.”

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