American public still skeptical about telemedicine

From the mHealthNews archive
By Eric Wicklund

Surveys and studies on telemedicine seem to be surfacing as often as new Republican presidential candidates these days, but one study about public perceptions just might turn a few heads.

According to TechnologyAdvice, consumers are growing more comfortable with certain aspect of telemedicine – but they're still wary of seeing a doctor or getting a diagnosis online.

According to the nationwide Internet survey of 504 U.S. adults, some 75 percent either don't trust a diagnosis delivered through telemedicine, or they'd give it less weight than one made by a doctor in person. In addition, more than half of those surveyed – 56 percent – said they wouldn't be comfortable meeting a doctor for the first time via telemedicine.

“This is perhaps the largest issue that telemedicine vendors and healthcare providers will need to overcome,” Cameron Graham, managing editor at TechnologyAdvice and the study’s author, said in a press release. “If patients don’t trust the diagnoses made during telemedicine calls, they may ignore the advice given, fail to take preventative steps or seek additional in-person appointments, which defeats the point of telemedicine.”

According to the survey, more than half of seniors surveyed were less likely to trust a virtual diagnosis, while just 17 percent of those 18-24 are skeptical – a good sign for the industry over the long run but a troubling one for those pitching telemedicine to the aging-in-place population.

Officials also noted some confusion about how telemedicine works, and a wariness of the quality of online physicians and telemedicine platforms.

"In order for telemedicine to make a meaningful impact on American healthcare, patients will need to not only become familiar with the concept, but also recognize the benefits it can offer over traditional appointments," the survey reported. "The current hesitation is likely due in part to concerns about the effectiveness of video appointments and the range of services offered. Physicians and telemedicine providers will need to actively promote their services to counter these feelings."

That said, 65 percent said they would use telemedicine after first meeting a doctor in person, and almost 70 percent said they'd be more favorable to telemedicine if it met one of four goals: more convenient appointment scheduling, reduced costs, less time spent in the waiting room, or the ability to conduct an appointment at home.

One huge concern: Only 7.5 percent of those surveyed said they'd be comfortable using a healthcare kiosk in a retail setting, and only 7 percent said they'd use the service in a dedicated kiosk at work.

"The fact that less than 10 percent of people would feel comfortable using a kiosk in a retail location (or at work) likely reflects the personal nature of medical visits, and lingering privacy fears," the report stated. "It also suggests that stores such as Rite Aid and Wegmans  which have begun trials of telemedicine kiosks  may have a hard time attracting initial customers. Part of the current hesitation may be due to misconceptions over the privacy of these kiosks, or simply a lack of familiarity with the technology. As more patients use kiosks, acceptance may improve."

Despite the negative aspects of the survey, its organizers noted only a small amount of respondents stated a strong opposition to the technology – less than 30 percent on most of the survey questions. Many had concerns or were skeptical of the benefits, but weren't entirely put off by the concept. It's therefore up to the provider community, they said, to highlight the benefits and ease the concerns of what is still a skeptical public.

"To better incentivize the use of such services, telemedicine vendors and healthcare providers need to more effectively explain the benefits of these appointments, and advertise the advantages over in-person visits. In particular, the lower cost of telemedicine services and more flexible scheduling are likely to resonate with many patients," the survey concluded. "If patients can be convinced that telemedicine provides an experience comparable to an actual visit – at least for preventative questions - there appears to only be a small amount of intrinsic opposition to virtual systems. Overcoming these concerns will be crucial for the long-term success of the industry."

See also:

Doctors, insurers could fuel wearable use

Users love health apps, docs hesitant

Patients: telehealth tops the doctor's office