Patients report scrolling on social media, exercising and drinking during virtual doctor appointments

The most common distractions were surfing the web, checking email or texting, with more than 24% of respondents admitting being distracted by these.
By Mallory Hackett
12:37 pm
Distracted patient uses phone during a telehealth visit.

Virtual doctors' appointments give patients the freedom to consult a healthcare provider whenever and wherever they want, but new research from DrFirst shows that telehealth also gives patients an excuse to be distracted during their appointments.

The healthcare technology and consulting services company conducted a national survey of consumers and found that, while nearly half of Americans have had a telehealth appointment during the pandemic, many report multitasking during the visit.


Of those surveyed, 73% of men and 39% of women said they have been distracted during a telehealth visit.

The most common distractions reported were surfing the web, checking email or texting, with more than 24% of respondents admitting they’ve been distracted during a virtual appointment by such things.

Other attention-grabbers include watching TV (24%), checking social media (21%), eating (21%), playing video games (19%) and working out (18%). A smaller percentage also reported taking a smoke break (11%) or driving a car (10%), and some (9.4%) even indulged in a “quarantini” during their appointment.

“As tempting as it may be, it’s important for patients to put aside distractions during a telehealth visit so they can fully engage with their healthcare provider,” advised Dr. Colin Banas, DrFirst’s chief medical officer, in a statement. “Set up early to make sure your Internet connection, microphone, and camera are working. I also advise patients to take notes and ask questions, whether their appointment is in-person or via telehealth.”

The survey also collected responses regarding how to improve telehealth for patients. Respondents indicated that higher-quality video was a top priority for them. They also said that the ability to text questions to doctors before the appointment, the option to see their own physician and more user-friendly technology were areas that could improve their experience.


The national online survey was conducted by Propeller Insights on behalf of DrFirst. It collected over 1,000 responses from U.S. consumers ages 18 and up between June 16 and June 19.


Even though some patients may be distracted during their telehealth visits, research from Massachusetts General Hospital suggests that virtual visits are just as effective as in-person visits. More than 60% of patients said that the quality of virtual video visits was no different from that of office visits, and 21% thought virtual visits’ overall quality was better. The same was true for physicians, with nearly 60% agreeing that the quality was about the same between in-person and virtual appointments.

During the pandemic, telehealth was more widely used for its ability to reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission while still allowing patients to connect with their doctor.

In 2020, 22% of consumers and 80% of physicians say they have had a virtual visit, according to Amwell’s annual Physician and Consumer Survey. These figures are up from 8% and 22%, respectively, according to Amwell.

Other research shows that seniors are some of the most avid adopters of telemedicine, with usage increasing 300% during the pandemic. This is especially true for Medicare beneficiaries – nearly half (43.5%) of Medicare primary care visits were conducted via telehealth in April, compared to less than one percent in February, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Thanks to an executive order signed in August, the expanded telehealth flexibilities provided during the pandemic will remain permanent going forward.



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