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By: Jamie Friscino on August 7th, 2020

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Patient Perspectives on Virtual Care Part 1: How to Increase Awareness of and Access to Virtual Care

Digital | Patient Experience | Patient Access | Patient Engagement | Online Scheduling | Marketing

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Prior to this year, the majority of healthcare consumers had little experience with virtual care. Now, just six months later, most health systems are utilizing virtual care offerings as a way to enable access to care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, according to our newest research report, Patient Perspectives on Virtual Care, 72% of patients had their first-ever virtual care visit this year. While initial reports indicate that the utilization of virtual care offerings has skyrocketed, what does the experience look like? How are patients finding out about and accessing these virtual care offerings?

To answer these questions, Kyruus asked 1,000 patients who utilized virtual care (in this case a video visit with a provider) during the initial spike of the COVID-19 pandemic about their experience across three key stages of the patient journey:

  1. Awareness and Access: How patients learned about and accessed virtual care visits
  2. Care Experience: How patients felt about their virtual care experience and the care they received
  3. Follow-up and Future Interest: How patients want to utilize virtual care in the future

To share the results, we’ll be creating a three part blog series—each blog will focus on a different section of the report. Since this is the first post in the series, we’ll focus on the first part of the patient journey—awareness and access. Of course, if you like spoilers, you can download the full report and read ahead

Why It’s Important to Generate Awareness for Virtual Care Visits

As we mentioned, nearly three-quarters of patients surveyed indicated that they had not had a virtual care visit prior to January of 2020. The data shows that patients didn’t just adopt virtual care, they embraced it—with nearly half of patients indicating they used virtual care two or more times during the survey period. 

With 73% of respondents indicating they had a pre-existing appointment cancelled or postponed, it’s not surprising that the majority of patients had virtual care visits with their existing providers as a way to access previously scheduled care. The data supports this—when asked about the types of appointments patients utilized virtual care for, overwhelmingly the survey shows that appointments were for wellness check-ins, care for a chronic condition, and treatment of an acute need. 

As a result of virtual care being utilized primarily by patients that had pre-existing appointments cancelled, it’s not surprising that the majority of the communication around virtual care options was between patients and their providers. 52% of responses indicating that patients were contacted by their existing provider, 30% of responses indicating that the patient contacted their existing provider. Following this thread a bit further, when it came to scheduling, patients followed a more traditional approach; two-thirds of patients did so over the phone—only a third of patients booked online.

With the COVID-19 pandemic expected to ebb and flow for the foreseeable future, virtual care will play an important role in enabling patient access. For healthcare organizations, looking to acquire new patients while continuing to serve their existing populations, there’s an opportunity to better market their virtual care, proactively informing patients about their options for receiving care.

How to Market (and Create Demand for) Your Virtual Care Offerings

As we learned from the survey data, most patients had their first experience with virtual care as a way to obtain care that they couldn’t in person. As such, the majority of the experience was held by individual providers. While we will cover how to enhance the patient experience in our next blog, here are a few tips for health systems to increase awareness of and access to their virtual care offerings: 

1. Proactively promote your virtual care offerings to consumers. Virtual care is here to stay and many patients will actively seek out this method for receiving care, especially when in-person options are not feasible or available. With only 15% of respondents indicating they received a communication from a hospital or health system, health systems have a large opportunity to drive engagement and appointment volume to new service lines by:

  •  Leveraging marketing campaigns to proactively promote virtual care offerings to consumers (e.g., email promotions, educational blogs, etc.)
  • Prominently surfacing virtual care offerings in places that patients are looking for care (both on owned properties and in search engines). 

2. Seamlessly integrate virtual care offerings into their digital front doors and access points. When consumers search for care, make it easy for them to filter results by providers who offer virtual visits or for on-demand virtual care offerings. Similarly, ensure that access center agents have visibility into the health systems’ virtual care offerings and are trained on when to suggest them to patients.

3. Enable easy scheduling options. With healthcare continuing to embrace a consumer-centric approach, enabling consumers to book their own appointments is crucial. Only one-third of survey respondents indicated that they booked their virtual care appointments online, but over half said they would prefer to—indicating a significant area of opportunity for health systems to drive patient acquisition and differentiate themselves in their markets.

To learn more about patient perspectives on virtual care, watch our recent webinar, where we review the report findings and talk to leaders from Emory Healthcare and Banner Health about their virtual care programs. Listen now!