After COVID-19, telehealth's momentum will be sustained by younger consumers seeking convenience

New data from a 2,052-person survey suggest that older healthcare consumers value their trusted providers, while younger generations are willing to pay a "convenience premium" for easy-to-access virtual care.
By Dave Muoio
01:37 pm

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many consumers to telehealth for the first time, but their reactions to these virtual care technologies – namely, how willing they are to continue using them and how much they're willing to pay – greatly vary based on how much each generation values convenience over a trusted provider.

These are the major takeaways of the Accelerate Health 2020 Consumer Telehealth survey, a poll of 2,052 individuals balanced to the U.S. population that was conducted in September by HIMSS (MobiHealthNews' parent company) and Change Healthcare.

Here, more than half of the respondents reported some form of telehealth use in the last six months, and 77% said that they'd be willing to use at least one type of telehealth technology once the pandemic has ended.

Whether or not virtual care is their first choice, however, was a different story. Overall, only 41% of the respondents said they would prefer telehealth for specific health circumstances once the pandemic was over.

While the preference for in-person care was often driven by specific concerns (such as comfort, condition-specific needs and privacy, for instance), these responses followed distinct trends based on the respondent's age, with older participants more often leaning toward traditional care.

Rob Havasy, managing director of the Personal Connected Health Alliance and senior director of HIMSS' Thought Advisory Group, explained that the demographic trend appears to largely break down to two contrasting values: trust in a known primary care physician or specialist provider versus convenience and accessibility.

"It turns out a 'trust premium' does exist, but not as broadly as we may have hypothesized," he said during a recent Accelerate Health presentation on the data. "Again, it correlates inversely with age, with older respondents saying: Absolutely, they would prefer to see a trusted provider, and may even be willing to pay a few dollars more to visit a trusted provider.

"But surprisingly, millennials and Generation Z respondents overwhelmingly said they would pay more for an online-only provider. We're beginning to call this idea the 'convenience premium.' For younger people more comfortable with technology, who likely utilize healthcare services less often, the convenience of an online provider outweighs the benefits to them of a trusted provider," he said.

Although the majority of the survey's respondents were insured, the out-of-pocket payments required for telehealth services means that these patients are still sensitive to the pricing of telehealth services when choosing their care, Havasy said.

Respondents generally said they believed telehealth should be cheaper than in-person care, but here again millennials were more likely to stomach higher out-of-pocket payments for the convenience of a virtual visit. That preference again played out in respondents' views of online-only, consumer-facing telehealth service providers, with younger generations more likely to say they would recommend the services to a friend or in lieu of a traditional provider.

After the telehealth boom of the spring, various sources have suggested that many consumers are returning to in-person care when able. Based on these survey responses, Havasy advised organizations to shore up their digital and virtual capabilities, but also to anticipate limited telehealth revenue projections for primary care practices and other provider organizations in the immediate future.

"Long-term investment seems to favor building competence in virtual capabilities," he said. "We would expect younger patients, even as they grow more chronic conditions, ... will likely continue their preference for the convenience and accessibility of online providers.

"So, while the short-term picture might be downward trending, the long-term picture as millennials and Generation Z users begin to consume more healthcare seems to be trending up toward these types of virtual technologies."


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