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Why Are Patients Increasingly Turning to Online Doctors?

Daniel Hagon

January 14, 2021

Telehealth has been around for many years but it’s only recently that it has blown open the USA’s healthcare scene in a way that might forever alter the way Americans view healthcare.

In December 2019, only 8% of Americans used the telehealth services available to them, and $32 million was spent on unnecessary ER visits. This was a huge amount of wasted money for everyday Americans, money which could have better invested in a cheaper, more convenient service.

However, by May 2020, 29% of Americans were using the service. That’s a huge increase of 21% in just half a year. So, what changed?

Concerns about a Pandemic

It’s a natural step, but as the coronavirus swept through America, both politicians and medical practitioners encouraged Americans to obtain their healthcare online rather than through physical visits. They advocated contacting a doctor from the relative safety and security of their home in order to reduce the spread and risk of infection. At the height of the pandemic in both New York and New Jersey, virtual visits were the only way patients could access healthcare.

Additionally, the government relaxed restrictions on the accessibility of telemedicine, allowing patients to access online doctors across state lines, as well as opening up telehealth appointments to Medicare and Medicaid coverage, thereby reducing costs for patients. With insurers also waiving co-pays, virtual visits were suddenly much more appealing and widely available.

By raising the profile and accessibility of telehealth, the government helped Americans become better informed of their options, and they reacted accordingly.

Easy, Convenient, Accessible

With this extra information, Americans have taken full advantage of their options.

While telehealth is not to everyone’s taste, for many it is a breath of fresh air. No more traveling long distances, arranging appointments around work and childcare commitments, or sitting in waiting rooms with potentially infectious patients. Instead, you can boot up your computer, settle into an armchair, and get in contact with your clinic almost instantly.

Providers have found that this increased convenience and accessibility has significantly reduced the rate of no shows to virtually zero, which is an incredible feat, and 83% of patients who have used telehealth plan to continue to use it long after the pandemic is over. That’s an incredible figure for a service that was barely known or used as recently as December 2019.

It’s also much easier for patients to shop for doctors online now that they aren’t restricted by physical travel. They can find a doctor who they feel relates to them and understands their conditions rather than having to settle for one based on location or price.

Well-Suited to Patients with Specific Needs

Rather than alienate patients with chronic or mental conditions, telehealth has made life easier for the majority of them.

For patients who need prescriptions or to make lifestyle changes, telehealth has been ideal. These kinds of patients now find it easier to adhere to the guidelines set by their online doctors because they’re able to check in easily, submit results electronically, and view their medical notes online. Having the ability to renew a prescription online means patients are more likely to stick to their prescribed treatment plan.

For mental health patients too, seeing the mask-less face of their doctor online, in the comfort of their own home, enables them to relax and communicate clearly. Given that physical examinations are neither necessary nor appropriate for mental health patients, the practitioner and patient can meet regularly without any impact on treatment quality.

Rapport and bonding

For some practitioners, being able to enter a patient’s home virtually has helped them improve the level of service they can offer. For instance, Dr Lauren Eberly, a medical practitioner at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, has found that the increased access to home life has helped her obtain relevant information from relatives and loved ones who would not normally be able to attend the clinic as well as foster a greater level of intimacy with her patients. “It really builds a nice rapport and different level of bonding.”

She highlights this with an anecdote about one of her elderly patients:

“The patient was concerned that she had run out of one of her medications, but she couldn’t remember which one it was. By using the camera on the screen, Dr Eberly was able to go through the patient’s medications with her until they could identify which one she was missing. As it so happened, the medication was important, and so Dr Eby immediately reordered it. Such service would not have been possible via an in-person visit.” – Dr Lauren Eberly

For many Americans, this level of accessibility and convenience has transformed how they manage their health. For them, telehealth has opened the door to a plethora of new options and services which are just a click or telephone call away.

A whole new world of online healthcare awaits.