Telemedicine is here to stay

Future use of telemedicine is expected to be twice as common as before COVID in the UK, according to buzzback study

According to findings from research by Buzzback, frequent or exclusive use of telemedicine by GPs has risen from 20%-30% since the outbreak of Coronavirus in the UK last year

The telehealth market is expected to grow at a remarkable rate of 40%, reaching $194.05 billion globally in 2023.

But, despite this rapid growth, until now there has been little research on both patient and healthcare provider (HCP) perspectives about the adoption of telemedicine.

With this in mind, insights and innovation agency, buzzback, conducted three waves of primary research and talked to more than 1,500 people in the UK and US to understand their attitudes towards telemedicine, and what’s next.

To give a holistic view, buzzback also interviewed over 150 GPs and primary care physicians using a Blended Research online quali-quant study.

And the key findings include:

  • The frequent or exclusive use of telemedicine by GPs has risen from 20%-30% pre-COVID to almost 80% in the UK at the beginning of 2021
  • Telemedicine is being used for all kinds of appointments, both for ongoing issues and for new symptoms and initial visits
  • Although healthcare practitioners are mostly using mainstream platforms – such as Zoom or Teams – some specialised channels are emerging. In the UK AccuRx, in particular, has seen rapid growth since the start of the pandemic

One thing this tells us is that telemedicine is definitely here to stay, although in-person appointments will be reintegrated over the coming months.

In the UK, especially, the use of telemedicine is twice as strong compared to pre-pandemic usage and is expected to continue at similar rates.

Although some aspects need improvement, satisfaction is already high and major healthcare and tech players are taking interest in this growing industry

But how do healthcare professionals and patients feel about this?

The level of satisfaction with telemedicine is high both for GPs and for patients, according to the research.

Over 70% of practitioners and patients are satisfied with these types of appointments.

They’re perceived to be especially helpful for answering patients’ questions and offering them greater time efficiency.

However, on the negative side, the inability to monitor vital signs and frustrations with technology create the most disappointment.

And the lack of human connection is also a downside.

One respondent said “Sometimes talking to a professional on the phone could be frustrating as they don’t understand the whole picture - or could not visualise the physical symptoms accurately. I felt less connected to the GP.”

Buzzback’s latest findings also show that a third or more of UK GPs and patients say the quality of telemedicine appointments has worsened during the pandemic.

While virtual appointments are perceived to be especially helpful for answering patient questions and offering greater time efficiency, on the downside, the inability to monitor vital signs and frustrations with technology create the most disappointment, according to the research

They highlighted some key disadvantages, such as frustrations with the technology itself, the limitations of no physical contact, and a less-personal experience.

Overall, telemedicine should complement in-person appointments, with blended offering to maximise the advantages of both approaches.

One healthcare worker quetioned said: “I do not want a career on the telephone.”

However, both practitioners and patients do see the value of telehealth in certain instances.

Going forward, though, there is a need for improved internet access and connectivity, and better-quality video and IT technology for more-reliable consultations.

In order to improve the experiences of both patients and healthcare practitioners, it’s important to keep looking at what the next steps should be for this growing market

Martin Oxley, managing director at buzzback UK, said: “Telemedicine is becoming increasingly predominant in the healthcare landscape.

“Although some aspects need improvement, satisfaction is already high and major healthcare and tech players are taking interest in this growing industry, for example Amazon Care.

“But, in order to improve the experiences of both patients and healthcare practitioners, it’s important to keep looking at what the next steps should be for this growing market.”