Before March 2020, most healthcare settings scarcely used telehealth to see patients. But the COVID-19 pandemic changed that—and fast. Telehealth visits skyrocketed early in the pandemic, accounting for nearly 25% of all doctors’ appointments at its peak, as patients sought to avoid physicians’ offices and waiting rooms.
A Return to Normal?
Now that patients have largely returned to in-person visits, and practices have determined which appointment types are best suited to a virtual environment, telehealth visits represent a much lower share of total appointments—as of September 11, 2021, that percentage hovered just below 5%, according to Phreesia network data.
Notably, however, the percentage of practices using telehealth in some capacity has remained consistent. As of September 2021, 60% of surveyed healthcare organizations reported using telehealth, suggesting that the technology has found a permanent place in today’s healthcare landscape. And patients appreciate the option: In March 2021, 47% of patients surveyed by Phreesia said they had tried telehealth. And 75% of those who had tried it said they preferred telehealth visits because of the flexibility.
That’s crucial information for point-of-care (POC) marketers striving to reach patients just before their doctors’ appointments. Telehealth has expanded the point of care beyond the four walls of the provider’s office and continues to keep millions of patients—as represented by telehealth’s 5% patient-visit share—out of the waiting room, where POC marketers have traditionally relied on stationed wallboards, print materials, and video display ads to reach their audiences.
Adapting to the Hybrid New Normal
So, what can marketers do to adapt? First, it’s important to understand what types of patients use telehealth. For example, remote appointments are especially conducive to procedure follow-ups and medication refills. Behavioral health providers also have found telehealth particularly useful, with virtual visits comprising nearly half of all mental health appointments. Telehealth has also enjoyed widespread use in endocrinology, neurology, rheumatology, and other specialty areas.
Telehealth visits aren’t limited to a specific age group. Virtual appointments account for 3.4% of visits among patients up to age 5; 5.8% of visits among patients ages 6 to 17; 6.1% of visits among patients ages 18 to 64; and 3% of visits among patients age 65 and older.
It’s also important to understand how the complex and dynamic regulatory landscape around telehealth will impact its use going forward. Early in the pandemic, emergency authorizations and changes to reimbursement eliminated barriers around where and how healthcare providers care for patients, but that’s since begun change. Though the environment is not as friendly as it was in early 2020, there are early signs that telehealth use will be supported at a policy level in at least some specialties, but it will be critical that point-of-care companies remain flexible and adapt to local regulations as they evolve.
Moving Telehealth Forward
With that data in mind, marketers will need to not only digitize their health education materials, but also find innovative ways to engage their audiences if they want to succeed in the new POC environment. While it won’t be easy, it will be worth it. Telehealth offers a unique opportunity to capture patients’ full attention at a highly receptive moment.
As patients get ready to see their doctors, they’re thinking about their health and preparing to make healthcare decisions. Marketers will see results if they can reach patients pre-visit—whether during intake or in a virtual waiting room—with content and information that can help make the doctor-patient interaction more productive.