RESTON, Va. – Most consumers are unaware of how to access telehealth or whether their insurers will even cover it, according to a recent report by telehealth provider Avizia.
“Telehealth has established itself solidly in the rapidly evolving marketplace for innovation in health care delivery and patient-centered care,” the report’s authors wrote. “Yet the gap between the current state of telehealth and full realization of its potential remains large.”
The 2017 “Closing the Telehealth Gap” report summarized the results of two online surveys of health care providers, executives and consumers. One survey went to health care professionals who work in organizations using telehealth, the other went to a general sample of U.S. adults.
The surveys found that 82% of consumers are either unsure of telehealth services or have never heard of it, and 31% of consumers prefer face-to-face visits with their provider. More than half of consumers haven’t had the opportunity to use telehealth.
“This points to a significant patient disconnect that either insurers or providers need to ponder,” the report’s authors wrote. “Providers that are keen to raise patient awareness and increase participation in telehealth may wish to consider some sort of joint patient education outreach with their leading managed-care partners.”
Tom Nix, a telehealth advocate, said there are several reasons why consumers are unaware of telehealth, including the complexity of state laws and reimbursement challenges.
“With the combination of state and coverage complexity, it is difficult for a telehealth provider to market their services directly to consumers on a nationwide scale using mediums such as television advertising to build awareness,” he said.
Nix believes awareness of telehealth can be increased through: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services policies that support quality telehealth providers with a modern view of technological changes; increased coordination between states regarding telehealth regulations; and consistent guidelines around the coverage of telehealth services.