Doctors and patients support virtual care, but implementation remains low

26 July 2018 4 min. read

A new survey finds broad support from healthcare consumers and providers for virtual care like physician video consultations. However, only 14% of doctors have implemented the technology at their practices, with only a further 18% looking to do so in the future.

Virtual health care and telemedicine technology has the potential to revolutionize the delivery of medical care, making it easier to access in remote locations while allowing physicians to deal with a larger volume of patients. Key technologies available today include email consultations, virtual/video visits, remote patient monitoring at home and at health facilities, remote care management and coaching, and integration of data from wearables into medical records.

Though consumers and physicians see the benefits of virtual health care, new research from Deloitte finds that physicians are reluctant to embrace the technology, citing concerns over reimbursement, privacy, and other issues. The Deloitte 2018 Surveys of U.S. Health Care Consumers and Physicians, which will be released in full in August, examines healthcare providers’ and consumers’ attitudes and experiences with current and future applications of virtual healthcare.

The survey finds favorable overall perceptions from both sides on virtual care: 64% of consumers and 66% of physicians see improved patient access as a top benefit. Meanwhile, 52% of physicians said the technology would help improve patient satisfaction, and 45% said virtual care would help them stay connected with patients and caregivers. The survey further found that virtual care can help expand access by delivering care to patients at more convenient hours, as well as to those who don’t feel well enough to leave their home.Consumers and physicians agree on benefits of virtual careHowever, physicians seem reticent to actually integrate it into their practices. The Deloitte survey found that though 57% of consumers favor video consultations, only 14% of doctors have the capability today, and only 18% plan to add it in the future. The report cites that the current state of reimbursement and licensing in the area of telehealth is still complicated and unfavorable to physicians. Additionally, virtual care tech is still expensive, reaching a $60,000 price point in some cases.  Physicians also point to concerns over medical errors (36%), access to technology (35%), and data security (33%).

“However, getting buy-in from physicians may not be as difficult as organizations might expect: most physicians who have tried the technologies associated with virtual care feel good about them,” said Dr. Ken Abrams, managing director, Deloitte Consulting. “It's important to help physicians understand how virtual care improves care quality and lessens patient or caregiver burden.”

On the consumer side, attitudes are favorable overall, with 57% of those who haven’t tried virtual care willing to give it a shot. The top reasons cited by consumers for not wanting a virtual visit were the loss of personal connection with their doctor (28%) and concerns over quality of care (also 28%).Consumer interest in virtual care outpace physician adoptionToday, the most used virtual care technology is that of email consultations (38%) between patient and physician, followed by physician-to-physician email consultation (17%). Virtual/video visits had a 14% prevalence in the Deloitte survey.

Doctors may soon embrace virtual care to a greater degree, regardless of misgivings. For one thing, progress is already being made on the reimbursement model barriers, according to Deloitte. Consumer demand for virtual care is also likely to spur physicians to attempt to gain a competitive edge by providing virtual services. According to the report, nontraditional providers are already offering virtual care services; as such, physicians and hospitals would be wise to head off the potential competitive threat. Additionally, insurers and employers may favor systems with virtual care capabilities.

"Virtual care capabilities can help physicians meet ever-increasing demands on their time and skill: caring for more patients, dealing with rising clinical complexity, and helping patients play a greater role in their own care," concluded Steve Burrill, vice chairman, Deloitte. "Organizations are unlikely to achieve this without developing virtual care capabilities. If they fail to act now, they risk losing significant market share as customers seek other solutions to meet their needs."