Online healthcare and virtual doctor visits: Are we there yet?

Online Physician ConsultationsThe harsh realities of cost are driving healthcare providers, insurance carriers and government agencies to implement policies designed to encourage consumers to take better control over their own health.

More healthcare plans and programs than ever before are including incentives for making lifestyle changes, undergoing preventive care routines, “do-it-yourself” testing as well as online consultations with physicians.

In this regard, it seems everyone is completely on the bandwagon … except perhaps the consumer.

Why is that the case? One reason might be because of what we’ve trained people to expect in the delivery of healthcare services.

For decades, American consumers weren’t given any meaningful incentives for engaging in preventive care or in making lifestyle adjustments. Several generations of Americans were acclimatized to seek out healthcare services when they needed it – and that was when something was wrong. And the billing for those services was sent directly to the insurance company for payment.

In such an environment, preventive health or cost control was the last thing on people’s minds.

I recall being hospitalized for six days back in the early 1980s, along with being given a battery of medical tests conducted by health specialists of every stripe. I’m sure the invoicing associated with my hospitalization and treatment was astronomical … but I never saw a copy of the bill to really know.

My only out-of-pocket expense for the entire week? Thirty dollars for using the television set in the hospital room.

What was surprising to me, even at the time, was that I was kept in hospitalization far longer than I felt I needed to be – my symptoms of infection were gone after just a day or two. If I had been responsible for paying for even a portion of my hospitalization, I’m sure I would have been talking with anyone I could find about how quickly I could be discharged!

Today of course, people are far more aware of skyrocketing healthcare costs – not to mention their concerns about ever-rising health insurance premiums, higher deductibles, and bigger co-pays. Still, when asked about adopting new ways of interfacing with healthcare providers, American consumers seem somewhat ambivalent about them.

A recent online survey of ~1,000 Americans age 18 and over conducted by marketing and research firm Euro RSCG Worldwide found that only ~42% of respondents are comfortable with the idea of having online consultations in lieu of personal visits with their doctors.

[Men are more receptive to this idea (~58%) than women are (~37%) … but women are the ones more apt to make healthcare decisions for their families.]

On the other hand, here’s an interesting additional insight from the survey: When told that having an online consultation with their physician might result in lower expenses, ~77% of those same respondents reported that they’d be open to trying it.

What about the concept of “do-it-yourself” testing? Close to half of the respondents in the survey (~48%) reported that they’re receptive to the idea of using mobile apps to run their own tests and checkups at home. Checking blood pressure was the most popular DIY test, along with tracking and reporting on symptoms.

Of course, as time moves forward, technology is no longer the big obstacle it once was for turning “virtual visits” and “remote care” into a reality. Instead, it’s consumer attitudes and a willingness to adapt. And to accomplish that, the purveyors of modern healthcare must try to undo several generations of “learned” behavior that’s nearly the polar opposite.

Denise Murtagh, a planning director at Euro RSCG, mentions another factor as well: the doctors themselves. “A lot will depend on how facile physicians are with the technology, and how comfortable they are with it.”

And let’s not forget age demographics, too. The survey underscores that Gen-X and Gen-Y consumers are far more comfortable with the idea of physician remote care (47% – 52% positive) than Baby Boomers and those born earlier are (only 33% – 39% positive).

It looks like we’ll need to give this trend a bit more time to come into full flower.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s