Patients have embraced virtual care and telehealth at very high rates as a result of COVID-19, and nine out of 10 said the quality of care was as good as or better than before, according to findings of a global Accenture survey of 2,700 oncology, cardiology and immunology patients.
Sixty percent said that, based on their experience during the pandemic, they want to use technology more for communicating with healthcare providers and managing their conditions in the future.
The survey was conducted in May across China, France, Germany, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. at a time when all participating countries were under some degree of government restrictions as a result of the global pandemic.
WHAT’S THE IMPACT?
As restrictions came into effect, patients faced difficult choices about whether and how to continue their treatments. Many healthcare providers cancelled appointments, and transportation options were shut down. Patients were afraid to risk exposure to COVID-19 by going to their healthcare providers for regular treatment, and as many as 70% deferred or cancelled at least some elements of their treatment.
But nearly half of all patients also started getting some treatment at home instead of going to their provider’s office, and they began using virtual telehealth tools such as video conference calls, online chat and apps. Sixty-three percent of those who used video conferencing said it was very good or excellent – an impressive response given 70% were using video conferencing for treatment for the first time. By using technology to support communication and care, providers were largely able to maintain or even improve on the patient experience.
Forty-seven percent of respondents said they received better, more personalized responses; 41% said responses were quicker; and 40% said it was more convenient to access care through new communications channels.
Also, overall trust in the healthcare system has increased. Sixty percent of patients surveyed said their trust in healthcare providers has increased, and 45% said their trust in pharmaceutical and medical device companies has increased.
Worryingly, many clinical trials were disrupted by COVID-19. Seventy-seven percent of patients said their clinical trials were suspended or delayed, which could have an effect on the speed with which new treatments come to market.
But for trials that continued, the use of telehealth was critical for consultations, treatment and monitoring. Case in point: 61% of patients whose trials continued used some form of virtual communication or care.
Patients said they want to be consulted more, but they are currently far from the center of the clinical-trial-design process. As decisions were being made on how to modify clinical trials due to COVID-19, only 14% of surveyed patients were asked about what changes would work for them. This held true across all therapeutic areas and geographies.
THE LARGER TREND
For insurers to continue covering telehealth after the public health emergency ends, policymakers should allow for flexibility in benefit designs, America’s Health Insurance Plans said this week.
Telehealth visits should also be clinically comparable to in-person care and be counted toward network adequacy requirements, risk adjustment calculations and quality measurement, the group said.
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said Thursday morning that the agency is doing what it can to maintain telehealth in the healthcare system, for which the Trump Administration has expressed support.
Regulatory barriers to telehealth access include restrictions around geography, originating sites and state licensure requirements.
Federal policymakers have enacted more than 30 changes to enable greater access to telehealth, and, in a June hearing, members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions examined how many of those changes should be made permanent – and how to make sure the most vulnerable won’t get left behind.