Many Patients Aren’t Paying Full Attention During Telehealth Visits

A new survey suggests that patients aren’t as engaged by telehealth visits as one might hope, with many multitasking during their consult. And, as I’ll argue below, that’s actually a pretty predictable finding, though not an inevitable one.

The study, which was backed by Dr. First, includes responses from more than 1,000 American consumers. Among the top findings of the survey include that 73% of men and 39% of women reported succumbing to distractions during virtual visits.

Top distractions include web surfing, checking email or texting (24.5%), watching news, TV or movies (24%), scrolling through social media (21%), eating a snack or meal (21%), playing a video game (19%), exercising (18%), smoking a cigarette (11%), driving a car (10% and having a “quarantini” cocktail or some other alcoholic beverage  (9.4%).

At the same time, a fair number of consumers take their virtual visits seriously. For example, 29% of respondents said they dressed more “nicely” for a video visit than one they conducted in person. While 43% of men said they would dress up, just 10% of women reported dressing up for video consults.

While there is no guarantee that addressing the issues will improve patient engagement, respondents did cite several suggestions on how to improve their video visit. These included offering better video clarity (26%), offering the ability to ask doctors questions in advance via text message (25%), self-schedule healthcare visits online or via an app (23%), seeing their own physician rather than a “random” telehealth doctor (23%), improve usability for patients who aren’t tech-savvy (23%) and seeing to it that the provider and staff are available promptly at the appointment time.

As a frequent telehealth user, I share their concerns and would add some more.

As I noted in a previous column, I see telehealth as a hugely important service that addresses my particular circumstances especially well. I have every reason to pay close attention to what providers have to say.

However, I have to admit that even given my high level of interest in participating in video visits, I too get distracted. The truth is that between technical and administrative issues, participating in telehealth can be more offputting than one might suspect, even if you’re highly motivated to take part.

My instincts tell me that the next step toward engaging distracted patients involves additional tools – perhaps, for example, an interface that allows both doctor and patient to look at or even touch and manipulate data together. I’m envisioning a situation in which the video visit is a collaboration which fosters information sharing between patient and physicians. This could also include having the system push out a quick “test” to the patient to see if they’ve retained what the provider said and what next steps they should take.

As long as telehealth involves asking patients to let physicians talk at them, there will always be concerns about whether they truly paid attention to the discussion. Thankfully, the new medium can offer a wide range of tools that could add a lot of value to patient consults.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

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