Telemedicine in the Time of COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered just about everything we do: working, learning, shopping,  interacting with others, etc. But possibly nothing we do has been so widely impacted as the way a patient interacts with their doctor. Both patients and healthcare workers (HCPs) face new challenges, even one year into the pandemic. For instance, many patients have found that their HCPs are less accessible and are limiting their visitation time. Older patients continue to face new transportation challenges due to COVID-19, and patients of all ages fear exposure to the virus and its variants if they leave the safety of their homes to get treatment at the doctor’s office. For HCPs, COVID-19 has altered the daily operations in how they examine, consult, treat, and care for their patients. Let’s examine the changes that COVID-19 has made on both from the point of view of patients and HCPs.

Patients POV

In a May 2020 Accenture survey1 of 2,700 patients from six countries, respondents reported how the pandemic has necessitated changing from the basic in-office patient visit to almost exclusive telemedicine consults. Some of the survey results were:

  • 70% of patients had recently deferred or cancelled appointments due to COVID
    • 1 in 10 cancelled all elements of their treatments.
  • 1 out of 5 patients switched to a different therapy due to COVID-19, while nearly half considered making a change
  • Nearly half of all patients reported that they are now getting treatment at home instead of going to their HCP’s office
    • Video conference calls and online chat use increased by 17% and 12%, respectively 

The good news coming out of all of this was that most patients described a very constructive experience using new technologies for various care support functions. Many actually reported that the care they received was as good or better than the care they were getting before the pandemic.  In fact, the majority surveyed felt that based on their experience during the pandemic, they want to use technology even more for connecting with HCPs and managing their conditions going forward.

HCPs POV

Also in May 2020, Accenture released the results of another survey2, one of 720 HCPs around the world that showed how COVID-19 changed their patient interaction experience, how the HCPs felt about those changes, and what new behaviors they want to continue in the future. The survey concluded that COVID-19 is driving lasting changes in how HCPs interact with their patients.  For instance:

  • 78% of HCPs saw a decrease in the number of patients visiting their office  during COVID-19
    • Half of general practitioners had a decrease in the daily volume of patients  while some specialists (eg, cardiologists, immunologists, and oncologists) reported an even bigger drop in patient visits, some as high as 90% 
  • 32% of HCPs have been asked to practice outside of their specialty during COVID-19, including cardiologists and oncologists

 

As with the patients surveyed, HCPs also report that a lot of good is coming out of this.  For instance, many healthcare providers report seeing lasting value in bringing care to their patients at home now than they were before the pandemic. Methods and devices that support self-administration of drugs and remote monitoring are more appreciated by 65% and 62% of HCPs, respectively. In addition, 62% of HCPs believe patients would be more interested in visiting nurses who comes to their home rather than them having to go into the office. Lastly, HCPs are actively switching their patients in selecting new therapies and utilizing new devices and apps. For instance, 66% of HCPs have switched some of their patients to a different therapy driven by a fear of side effects or the impact on their risk of COVID-19 (61%).

Conclusion

Major changes in healthcare delivery from HCP to patient has been necessitated in order to adapt to the realities of COVID-19. The two Accenture surveys have shown that by using technology to support communication and care, HCPS are now able to maintain or even improve on the patient experience, while patients appreciated the more personalized interactions, the faster response time, and the convenience of being able to manage and monitor their care from home. The surveys also highlighted an increase in trust in the entire healthcare system by patients by the perception that their care was actually improved by the advent of a larger focus on home health care and telemedicine.

Patient/HCP interaction has been changed by the pandemic and new variants springing up in 2021 threaten to make this a permanent change.  So while we have witnessed a good start to a new normal, this will require an ever-evolving change in how the healthcare system engages with and supports patients.  This opens the door for opportunities for developing new tools that will provide more personalized patient interaction to allow them and HCPs to continually improve their engagement as we go forward. 

References
1. https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-129/Accenture-COVID19-Patient-Treatment-Survey.pdf#zoom=40
2. https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-130/Accenture-HCP-Survey-v4.pdf