Telehealth visits have become much more common since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but are consumers sold on this new way of receiving health care? A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge explored how consumers feel about this new way of seeing their doctors.
According to their findings, telehealth visits have mixed reviews from consumers. For some patients, having this kind of access to their doctors comes with convenience. However, others are questioning the accuracy of the health advice given during these sessions.
“The pandemic has had a major impact on the ability of health care professionals to see their patients face-to-face, and this has led to a significant increase in the number of telemedicine consultations,” said researcher Melanie Sloan. “While these are undeniably safer in terms of COVID risk, there had been little research previously on the impact of patient care, particularly for more complex conditions.”
Pros and cons of telemedicine
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from 1,340 rheumatology patients who completed online surveys from April 2021, to July 2021 about telemedicine visits. The team also interviewed another 31 patients and 29 health care providers about their experiences with telehealth.
Ultimately, the reviews for telemedicine visits were both positive and negative. While nearly 70% of patients said that virtual doctors’ visits impact the connection they have with their physicians, more than 60% of patients and doctors thought this was a more convenient way to schedule and attend appointments.
Some of the other worries surrounding telemedicine included limitations to the kinds of care that doctors can provide, as well as the fear that it would be difficult to get immediate assistance with an urgent medical issue. Patients also believed that virtual visits may limit access to care for consumers from certain backgrounds.
“We’ve had some local practices only allowing contact through econsult, so that means if you can’t use it, you’re elderly, English [is] not your first language, you’ve got learning difficulties...it’s not fair,” one general practitioner said. “They’re doing that whole barrier to protect their time.”
Doctors worry about telehealth becoming more widespread
Many patients noted the positive aspects of seeing their doctors this way. Not only did they feel this was a safer and healthier option, but for consumers balancing work and home life, virtual visits cut down on wait times and traveling.
However, only 3% of clinicians involved in the study believed that telemedicine was better than in-person visits. Many professionals said they were worried that the trend has become too widely used in an effort to save money and time.
“Our research exposes the inherent risks and benefits of telemedicine for patients with complex conditions, which may have important implications for patients who have other serious or unpredictable long-term conditions,” said Sloan. “...We hope there will be a thorough assessment of the clinical and psychological risks and steps taken to mitigate those risks, as well as action to address the possibility of worsening existing health inequalities for those less likely to be able to benefit from remote consultations.”