CivicScience | Telemedicine Adoption Needs a Booster, Especially Among Seniors

General, Healthcare

Telemedicine Adoption Needs a Booster, Especially Among Seniors

Image Credit: Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Healthcare in the U.S. – where the average annual cost per household is enough to buy a basic car

The out-of-control costs of care have led to the rise of telemedicine and the telehealth industry. Instead of trekking to the doctor or ER for common health problems, patients can meet virtually with a doctor or medical staff member over a video call or phone call from home. That may even involve the use of techy tools that monitor and transmit patient health data.

Research is showing that telemedicine saves everyone time and reduces healthcare costs, and a recent J.D. Power study estimates even just minimal use could save millions of dollars in ER visits.

Sounds like a step into the future, but let’s not get too excited. A CivicScience report in early Q2 of 2019 found that only 10% of respondents had tried telemedicine – and only 7% said they tried it and actually liked it. That was close to a year ago – fresh into 2020, we’re witnessing zero growth in adoption (as shown in a survey of 8,363 U.S. adults):

Ultimately that means the telehealth industry, and health insurance companies fond of the cost-saving benefits of telemedicine, have some work to do if they want more people to start using telemedicine services.

However, they should take note because there are two key areas that have changed: awareness and interest.

CivicScience data show a steady growth in respondents who say they haven’t tried telemedicine, but plan to, rising from 13% in 2019 to 19% today.

The data also show a four percentage-point drop in people who say they’ve never heard of telemedicine. In other words, the data indicates that about 75% of the U.S. is now at least aware that telemedicine exists.

The 2019 J.D. Power study noted that awareness of telemedicine at all and confusion over whether or not providers offered it was crippling adoption. If the trends seen above continue, that could open up the doors to wider adoption. But what will it take?

For one, getting seniors to use the services.

Seniors are the Least Interested in Virtual Visits

Taking a deeper dive into the data, the survey clearly shows that adults 55 and older are the most staunchly uninterested in using telemedicine (55%). 

The problem here isn’t awareness – this age group is the most aware that telemedicine services exist. Yet this is also the age group that racks up the most in healthcare costs; it’s estimated that medical expenses more than double for seniors aged 70-90.

On the other hand, it may be significantly easier to grow adoption among younger adults, especially 18- to 24-year-olds – half aren’t yet aware that telemedicine even exists. Millennials and Gen X have thus far been the greatest adopters, but there is still plenty of room among the unaware (between 30-39%) in those populations to drive conversion.

Telemedicine Appeals to Commercial Plan Holders, Not Medicare Recipients

Age also factors into how telemedicine adoption plays out in the health insurance scene. Tracking from Q3 of 2019 to today shows that among the insured, Medicare recipients (as well as Medicaid) are the least likely to have tried telemedicine and more than half are just uninterested in it.

Those with commercial insurance – whether through an employer or purchased on their own – are more than twice as likely as those with government-assisted care to have used telemedicine, despite being less aware of it.

The American Hospital Association states that most Medicaid programs offer some form of telehealth care, and  76% of U.S. hospitals are connected with telehealth services. In addition, restrictions were lifted on Medicare reimbursement for telemedicine services – but the challenge to get recipients to use them is real.

Early Telemedicine Adopters are Into Mobile Banking

As the 2019 CivicScience study pointed out, the digital aspect (e.g., video chat or remote monitoring) of telemedicine easily lends itself to the more tech-savvy, app-loving crowd, which naturally indexes as younger. That’s likely one among a host of reasons keeping more older adults and seniors from being interested in telemedicine.

In fact, J.D. Power points out that telemedicine will play out similarly to trends in mobile banking adoption. The CivicScience survey found a correlation between the two: respondents who tried telemedicine before use mobile banking tech the most. The opposite is true for those who have not tried telemedicine and are uninterested.

The survey also checked in on other insights that may be useful to providers. It found that telemedicine continues to appeal to women more than men, and to suburban and urban dwellers more than rural – a population that could benefit from the services. 

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