More than half of the hospitals in the United States connect with patients and consulting practitioners through some form of telehealth or telemedicine technology, according to the American Hospital Association (AHA).

Healthcare providers roundly support the use of telemedicine in their hospitals, saying it helps them respond faster to patient needs, provide a wider range of services to patients—especially in rural locations—and ease the burden on onsite staff. But how do the patients themselves feel about it?

Eagle Telemedicine has conducted its own surveys of patients treated in hospitals via telemedicine services, and 96% say they would recommend telemedicine to friends and family. In addition, our own anecdotal evidence abounds regarding telemedicine’s acceptance by patients—young and old alike.

‘More Personal than an In-Person Visit’

Some patients have even said that they find telemedicine more personal than an in-person visit with a doctor in a hospital—because the patient has the full attention of their doctor, who is listening intently and asking questions without any interruptions by a hospital pager, a buzzing cellphone, or looking at a computer while they talk.

(A telling study on this subject, published in JAMA Internal Medicine and recapped in Patient EngagementHIT, showed that high computer use by clinicians was associated with lower patient satisfaction—a lesson to multitasking clinicians on how they might miss openings for deeper connection with their patients.)

A review of the literature from 2010-2017 shows success

It’s no surprise that telemedicine providers post stories about patient satisfaction, but a review of outside sources reveals similar findings. One review of 2,193 articles about telemedicine from 2010-2017 shows that patient expectations were met when providers delivered healthcare via videoconference or any other telehealth method. The systematic review and narrative analysis noted strong results across the literature showing that telemedicine improved outcomes, was easy to use, reduced costs and increased communication with providers.

One notable example is the Nemours Children’s Health System. With locations throughout the Delaware Valley and in Florida, the system implemented Nemours CareConnect, a 24/7 on-demand pediatric telehealth program, which provides access to Nemours pediatricians through smartphones, tablets or computers. Nemours reports that Nemours CareConnect has earned top reviews from end-users, in addition to speeding wait times to under five minutes and enabling Nemours to reduce emergency room visits by 25% and urgent care visits by 34%.

In another study—the Virtual Visits Consumer Choice Survey by Advisory Board, a healthcare best practices consultancy—77% of 5,000 patients across the country said they are willing to conduct a virtual care encounter, and 19% of patients have already done so.

Keeping quality high is the key to satisfaction

With the growing acceptance of telehealth among the general public, it is incumbent on the healthcare industry to ensure that telehealth services meet certain standards. It’s why the American Telemedicine Association has developed standards and guidelines for telemedicine across a variety of clinical specialties.

The ATA’s standards ensure that telemedicine continues to deliver fundamental benefits, including improved access to care, cost efficiencies and quality. According to the ATA, “Studies have consistently shown that the quality of healthcare services delivered via telemedicine are as good those given in traditional in-person consultations. In some specialties, particularly in mental health and ICU care, telemedicine delivers a superior product, with greater outcomes and patient satisfaction.”

A rural Georgia hospital is one example of success in tele-ICU care—success that benefits patients and staff. After the first nine months of the program, an increase in ventilator days from 44.3 to 49.6 is a clear measure that the hospital is keeping more ventilated patients in their hometown hospital. At the same time, a reduction in ventilated days per patient means the hospital is more efficiently weening patients off ventilators, helping decrease risk factors such as ventilator-associated pneumonia.

Preparing the patient helps, too

There is another important ingredient in the success of a telemedicine program: the onsite clinicians who serve as the local connection between patients and the telemedicine team. One clinician involved with a telemedicine program in a rural hospital in Kansas says that the biggest concern she encounters is the fear that we are going to “turn over” a patient’s care to someone else. 

“My response is to reassure patients that the other members of the onsite clinical team and I will still be very much involved in their care,” she says. “I also gently explain that, because of telemedicine, patients are far less likely to be transferred to a referral hospital in Wichita (60-plus miles away) to get the care they need. Being transferred away from their hometown hospital is another major concern of patients. When they understand the telehospitalists are often the reason they get to stay here, they feel much more positive about the experience.”

In fact, three years after the telemedicine program began at the hospital, it has come to be matter of course to most patients. “When we started our program, we held introductory meetings for the community,” the clinician says. “It was a great way to help our residents understand the new program, our reasons for implementing it, and the benefits it would deliver. Those sessions helped people get comfortable with the concept of telemedicine before they (or family members) came to the hospital for treatment. And now that three years have passed, we get very few questions about telemedicine, and even fewer objections to it.”

Consumers want telemedicine

Another statement by the ATA is perhaps the most revealing when it comes to how patients feel about telemedicine. The time has come, says the ATA, to realize that consumers want telemedicine. “The greatest impact of telemedicine is on the patient, their family and their community,” the ATA states. “Using telemedicine technologies reduces travel time and related stresses for the patient. Over the past 15 years, study after study has documented patient satisfaction and support for telemedical services. Such services offer patients the access to providers that might not be available otherwise, as well as medical services without the need to travel long distances.”