Consumers are overwhelmingly satisfied with telehealth, but barriers to virtual care access remain, according to a new survey by J.D. Power of more than 4,300 people between June and July who had a telehealth visit within the past year.
The overall consumer satisfaction score for telehealth was 860 out of 1,000 — among the best J.D. Power has ever recorded in its surveys of the healthcare, finance and insurance sectors, the data analytics firm said. However, many consumers said they still experienced barriers in obtaining such a visit, and those who considered themselves to be in poorer health were far less satisfied with the experience than those who considered themselves healthy.
Telehealth services became crucial as COVID-19 became a global pandemic last March and led to a virtual shutdown of the United States and most other countries. Among those who had a telehealth visit in 2019, just 13% said they did so for safety reasons. That spiked to 46% this year.
The new survey suggests that the service — which had had marginal uptake before the pandemic — will be a fixture of healthcare delivery for the foreseeable future. That's in line with other forecasts, including members of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which suggested last month many new regulatory policies will remain in place post-COVID to encourage telehealth's widespread adoption.
And consumers who've tried telehealth are quite satisfied with their experience, though it varied by provider.
Amwell received the highest satisfaction score among telehealth providers, 885 points out of 1,000. Doctor on Demand, which ranked second, received a score of 879 points.
Health insurers usually rack up low consumer satisfaction scores. But plans providing telehealth services fared relatively well, with Cigna getting top marks of 874, followed by Kaiser with a score of 867. Even lower-ranking plans such as Anthem and Humana cracked more than 850 points apiece.
But 52% percent of those surveyed reported at least one obstacle in obtaining telehealth services. Among them was limited access to such services (24%) and confusion caused by technology requirements (17%). Another 15% said that they were not aware of the total costs connected to such services.
Although most major health insurers have been making telehealth available free of charge during the pandemic, at least two major payers — UnitedHealthcare and Anthem — are slashing virtual care benefits as of Oct. 1.
Additionally, 35% of all people surveyed said they had at least one glitch occur during a telehealth visit, with audio or other tech issues being the biggest problem.
Moreover, consumers who reported they were in poor health had satisfaction scores with telehealth that were 117 points lower than the overall total. J.D. Power noted that healthier patients were far more likely to understand the information they received during their telehealth visit and feel that the experience was highly personalized and obtain a diagnosis they felt was reliable.