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Poll: Older adult patients prefer convenience of telehealth visits over office visits, still harbor concerns


About half of patients who have experienced a telehealth visit said they preferred the convenience, but had concerns about quality

Nearly half of older adult patients said they preferred the overall convenience of telehealth visit with their doctor over an office visit, according to a new poll from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging.                                                                  

Of those polled, 55 percent answered that they did not know if their physician offered the service, which is defined as healthcare visits performed by video using a smart phone or computer. Only 14 percent of respondents said their physicians did offer the visits and a mere four percent said they had a telehealth visit within the previous year.

While the convenience of telehealth seems to be preferable to older adult patients-defined as those aged 50 to 80-58 percent of those polled viewed in-person visits as preferable in terms of the quality of the care provided.

Similar percentages of respondents also found that in-person visits are better with regard to feeling cared for and the communication and time spent with their physician.

But the survey results do show patient interest in telehealth. Of those polled who said their provider does not offer telehealth visits, 48 percent said that they were interested in a telehealth meeting with their primary care physician and 40 percent said they would be interested in meeting with a specialist. Another 35 percent said they were interested in telehealth visits with a mental health professional.

The poll showed 68 percent of older adult patients were interested in the visits for an unexpected illness while travelling, 58 percent were interested in using it for return visits, 55 percent for a one-time follow-up after a procedure or surgery.

But only 34 percent were interested in telehealth visits to discuss a new health problem, 29 percent to discuss a sensitive health issue, and only 28 percent would want to discuss a mental health concern.

The chief concerns of those polled was that the doctor would not be able to perform a physical exam, and that the quality of the care they would receive would not be as good through telehealth. Patients also had issues with privacy, not feeling connected to the physician or provider, difficulty with the technology, and difficulty seeing or hearing whomever they were holding the telehealth visit with.

While the poll shows that older patients are open to the convenience presented by telehealth visits, many are still skeptical and unless their concerns are addressed the use of these visits among older adult patients could be limited, according to a news released disbursed with the data.

“Telehealth won’t replace in-person medical examinations completely, but for situations where in-person visits aren’t essential, they can save time and resources for patients and providers alike,” says Preeti Malani, MD, in the news release. “Providers shouldn’t assume older adults aren’t receptive to virtual visits, but they should understand and work to overcome some of the reasons for hesitation.” 

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Jennifer N. Lee, MD, FAAFP
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health