In the past several years, SCP Health has become increasingly more involved in providing different forms of care outside the four walls of the hospital — including telehealth and its operational cohort, telemedicine.

As we move further into this new frontier, we realize the necessity of addressing the opportunities and roadblocks that accompany the generational use of technology, both from the standpoint of patients and providers, and assess their view of and comfort with virtual care. Knowing these tendencies is particularly important given that the distancing measures brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting effect on adoption of telemedicine across the board.

Telehealth Differences by Generation: The Patient Perspective 

While most healthcare consumers are open to telehealth and adoption continues to grow, how they want to use it varies significantly by age.

A 2019 American Well consumer survey (PDF) of more than 2,000 adults broke down the generational differences in telehealth adoption in extreme detail. Here is a high-level summary of the findings:

  • Sixty-six percent of consumers are willing to use telehealth, and eight percent have tried it;
  • Younger generations are most open to its use (74 percent) while seniors (52 percent) have less interest;
  • Millennials and middle-aged consumers value convenience and use telehealth to save time;
  • Older populations want telehealth for prescription renewals and chronic disease management;
  • Middle-aged consumers are most willing to use telemedicine for urgent care;
  • Millennials want telehealth to address growing mental healthcare issues;
  • Most seniors are unwilling to change providers to one that offers telehealth services (the same holds for the 35-44 demographic);
  • Surprisingly, 45-54-year-olds are the least comfortable with technology;
  • Cost concerns are a motivating factor in making healthcare choices for most age groups.

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Let's examine some of the findings in greater detail:

Willingness to Switch Providers

While many consumers would not switch their provider (PCPs are the group the survey referenced) to one who offered telehealth, 25 percent would. When applied to the entire United States adult population, that means 64 million consumers would switch.

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Prescription Renewals

Prescription renewals are the most common reason for using telehealth across all demographics. Overall, 72 percent of consumers willing to use telehealth want it for prescription renewals.

Chronic Disease Management

The second most commonly cited reason for using telehealth was chronic disease management. Fifty-six percent of consumers would use video visits for chronic disease check-ins, with consumers over age 45 being the most willing.

Urgent Care

As mentioned, urgent care is most popular among the middle-aged population (47 percent for ages 45-54). "This is an interesting finding and could alter the telehealth strategy of healthcare organizations moving forward," the survey said.

Millennials and Mental Health

Mental health was the only telehealth-related service millennials showed more interest in than all other age groups. Thirty-eight percent of millennials were interested in seeing a doctor over video for mental healthcare. This statistic is particularly interesting, as there is a notable increase in the prevalence of mental health conditions among the millennial population.

Surgery and Inpatient Stay Follow-Up

Another factor worth mentioning is that people ages 65 and older want telehealth for surgery or inpatient stay follow-up.

Tech-Savvy Seniors

Something else worthy of note regarding seniors is that not all are technology Luddites — many are "tech-savvy," according to a Deloitte survey.

"People who make up this group, which we dubbed 'tech-savvy seniors,’ are comfortable going online to shop, book travel, and manage personal finances," the survey said. "They are more inclined than their contemporaries to be interested in using technology for their health care needs. These tech-savvy seniors were more likely to be male than female, had attended college, and had a higher income compared to other seniors."

Digital Assistant Use

Digital assistants, such as Amazon Alexa, Siri, and Google Home, are becoming popular across all age groups among people who are interested in tracking their health. Seventy-five percent use digital assistants to receive reminders or alerts about medication, while 72 percent of this group use them to monitor health, the survey reported.

The Provider Perspective

Patients aren't the only ones who have to address the technology question; providers also have a stake.

Another American Well survey—this time focused on clinicians—found, by and large, providers are willing to try telehealth video visits.

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Over three-fourths of U.S. hospitals are currently using or implementing a telehealth program, and as telehealth becomes more commonplace in hospitals, physicians are more willing to follow suit. The survey attributes the increase in physician willingness to a decrease in the number of physicians who are unsure about telehealth.

Just as with patients, age does factor into acceptance, though not precisely as you may expect.

Surprisingly, newer physicians (aged 25-34) were somewhat less willing to use telehealth compared to other young physicians (aged 35-44), the survey revealed (possibly because these physicians are still learning their craft and thus less confident about new technology).

Not surprisingly, however, younger physicians are overall more willing and less unsure about telehealth compared to older physicians.

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Why & How Providers Can Engage Patients in Telehealth

As telehealth and telemedicine services grow in popularity, healthcare industry participants — from the C-suite to individual providers — must accept the fact that the use of these capabilities is no longer optional.

Hospitals and health systems need to invest in and create strategies for virtual health offerings (e.g., apps, kiosks, portals, etc.) if they plan to continue engaging consumers across the generational spectrum.

That means they need to know their patient population mix to construct their telehealth offering well and in a scalable manner. They also need to understand the factors at work in their specific population to market to and engage consumers appropriately to drive results.

Here are some useful steps hospitals, health systems, and providers can take to address telehealth and telemedicine needs for each generation:

1. Build Programs Consumers Want

Consumers see the most value in telehealth for prescription renewals, chronic disease management, and follow-up care, the American Well survey found. When developing telehealth programs, hospitals and health systems should address the needs and interests of their consumers as that is, ultimately, how they deliver value to the organization.

2. Tailor Telehealth to Consumer Needs

Age plays a significant role in telehealth usage. For example, millennials value convenience over cost and delay accessing care as a result. Seniors are loyal to their physicians and health insurance providers but overuse the ER for acute conditions.

Understanding consumer healthcare personas will help health systems tailor telehealth—and telehealth marketing — to fit the needs of different age demographics.

3. Encourage Physician Adoption of Telehealth

Sixty-nine percent of physicians are willing to use telehealth, and 25 percent of consumers with a PCP are open to switching doctors to one that offers telemedicine video visits, the survey revealed. Encouraging more physicians to utilize telehealth enables health systems to keep existing patients and attract new ones.

Barriers to Telehealth Service Adoption

Despite the growth of telehealth, barriers still exist.

Thirty-four percent of respondents to the American Well survey said they are not willing to use the technology due to the desire for in-person care, concerns about privacy, and uncertainty regarding reimbursement.

Another barrier has to do with awareness. A J. D. Power survey of 1,000 Americans found that nearly three quarters were unaware of telehealth services. Intermountain Healthcare, a not-for-profit health system in Salt Lake City, Utah, conducted a research initiative and discovered that only 20 percent of people had ever heard of telehealth.

Insurance coverage is a third barrier. Medicare generally still limits coverage and payment for many telehealth services, the American Hospital Association states.

Five Reasons to Adopt Telehealth & Telemedicine Services

There are many reasons physicians, hospitals, and health systems should adopt telehealth and telemedicine services. These include:

1. Increased Access for Patients

Telehealth gives physicians a new level of access to patients (and patients to providers). By adopting telehealth, health systems can increase their catchment area for services they're known for, allowing larger populations easier access to their physicians and services. Distance no longer becomes a barrier.

2. Flexible Work-life Balance

Telemedicine lets doctors work remotely and maintain flexible hours while upholding a high standard of care delivery.

3. Attract and Retain New Patients

Video visits offer a convenient, patient-centric care option that helps providers and health systems increase their patient base and prevent leakage.

4. Improved Patient Outcomes

By offering more timely, consistent, and appropriate access to care through video visits, telehealth has the potential to positively impact patient outcomes.

5. Be on the Leading Edge

Many physicians see video visits as the next advancement in medicine and want to be at the forefront of this burgeoning movement.

Conclusion

Increasingly, all generations are using some form of technology to make healthcare decisions.

As a result, physicians, hospitals, and health systems must embrace telehealth and telemedicine services as a compelling way to engage with patients, provide better care, and remain relevant in today's digitally-connected world.  

That's where SCP Health can help.

Our telehealth solutions maximize quality, value, and efficiency by applying convenient, easily navigated telemedicine technology to care delivery.

Our team of experts can help you explore how leveraging telehealth technology can extend quality care to patients as you begin your journey into this new frontier and go “outside the four walls.” Contact us today to learn more.