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How Has COVID-19 Impacted Use of Telehealth Visits?

How Has COVID-19 Impacted Use of Telehealth Visits?

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  • Virtual medical visits, known as telemedicine, especially among older Americans, have increased in 2020, ever since the COVID-19 pandemic
  • The increase in telemedicine could be due to increased awareness, and fear among regarding the risks of COVID-19 infection
  • States mandating restrictions in elective and non-emergency health care, as part of the "stay home" requirement of the pandemic, could be another reason
  • Adults also had reduced worries about privacy and virtual interaction which encouraged them to use telemedicine

With the 'stay at home' message as part of the COVID-19 pandemic requirement, one in four older Americans resorted to telemedicine in the first three months of the pandemic. The findings are according to a new telehealth poll taken in 2020.

The findings are much higher than the 4% of people over 50 years who said they had a virtual visit with a doctor in a similar poll taken in 2019, indicating that the people are getting more comfortable with telemedicine. In 2019, most older adults expressed concern about telehealth, but by mid-2020 people were more convinced about the concerns able eased

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How Has COVID-19 Impacted Use of Telehealth Visits?

Some older adults are not able to replace the effect of in-person care with virtual care a during a pandemic, according to the National Poll on Healthy Aging.

Both the 2019 and 2020 polls were done for the University of Michigan's Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation with support from AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M's academic medical center. Both involved a national sample of more than 2,000 adults aged 50 to 80.

Around 17% of people over 50 years say they have never used any sort of video conferencing tool for any reason, including medical care. This could be due to lack of experience with telemedicine or lack of access to clinics without having to leave home as the pandemic continues to surge in dozens of states.

"These findings have implications for the health providers who have ramped up telehealth offerings rapidly, and for the insurance companies and government agencies that have quickly changed their policies to cover virtual visits," says Laurie Buis, Ph.D., M.S.I., a health information technology researcher at U-M who helped design the poll and interpret its results. "Tracking change over time could inform future efforts, and highlights the need for much more research on concerns, barriers, and optimal use of telehealth by older adults."

"This has been an extraordinary time for the telemedicine movement, and these poll results show just how powerful this 'trial by fire' has been," says Jeff Kullgren, M.D., M.P.H., M.S., associate director of the poll, health care researcher and a primary care provider who uses telehealth with his patients at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. "But our data also highlight areas of continued concern for patients that need to be addressed."

Poll Results in 2020

According to the poll, around 30% of older adults had participated in a telehealth visit by June 2020, reflecting changes in insurance coverage that began to take effect before the pandemic.

Majority of the movement to telehealth visits could be sue to states imposing restrictions on elective and non-emergency health care during the first months of the pandemic, as part of "stay home" campaign to reduce the spread of the virus.

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

Risks of COVID-19 could be another reason why 45% of older adults who responded said the pandemic made them more interested in telehealth. The percentage was higher, around 91%, among those who had had a telehealth visit in the past. For 15% of the poll respondents fear of the virus was the reason for a telehealth visit.

In addition, 2020 also saw an audio-only visit by phone. Around 36% had an audio-only visit by phone.


Comparisons between the two years show the following results:

  • 64% of the older adults reported feeling very or somewhat comfortable with video conferencing technologies in 2020, compared to53% in 2019
  • 62% of the healthcare providers offered telehealth visits compared to 14% in 2019
  • 72% of the older adults in 2020 said that they were interested in using telehealth compared to 58% in 2019
  • Following a surgical procedure, 63% of the adults showed interest in telehealth in 2020, compared to 55% in 2019
  • The privacy concerns went down to 24% in 2020 due to telehealth compared to 49% in 2019
  • the concern about the difficulty in seeing or hearing the provider during a video visit went down to 25% in 2020, down from 39% in 2019
There was no change in the percentage who said they would feel comfortable seeing a provider for the first time via a virtual visit (about one in three would), and the percentage who felt that the quality of care in a telehealth visit was not as good (about two-thirds).

What the Future Holds

"It's clear from this study and AARP's research that older adults are increasingly comfortable with telehealth and are willing to use technology to interact with their health providers," says Alison Bryant, Ph.D., senior vice president of research for AARP, says. "As the coronavirus pandemic continues, telehealth has been a useful tool for older adults to access health care from the safety of their own homes, but we must be mindful that not everyone can access these services."

Source: Medindia

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