Signaling long-term shifts in healthcare, 62% of Americans say they will prefer telehealth appointments post-pandemic

By: Telehealth.com Staff Published: 2/9/21

Prior to 2020, virtual delivery of healthcare services like consultations, routine check-ups, and follow-ups was on the rise, but the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have greatly accelerated the adoption of telehealth services among patients.

With doctors and hospitals limiting in-person visits to slow the transmission of the coronavirus, and more health insurance programs covering telehealth appointments, awareness and utilization of this type of healthcare delivery grew throughout 2020. 

Now, Americans are increasingly leaning towards telehealth services for routine medical appointments, according to a new Telehealth.com survey of 1,000 Americans ages 18 to 54 and older. We asked survey respondents about their awareness and utilization of telehealth services before and during the pandemic, and what they think their long-term preferences will be once the pandemic ends.

Key Findings

  • 65% of people who had heard of telehealth prior to the pandemic, and 59% of those who became aware of telehealth during the pandemic, said they will prefer telehealth services after the pandemic ends
  • Awareness of telehealth services increased by 48% overall during the pandemic
  • Overall, the majority of the individuals who utilized telehealth services rated the quality of medical attention they received as “good” to “excellent”
  • White Americans and those in higher income brackets were more likely to be aware of telehealth services before and during the pandemic compared to individuals in other ethnic groups and lower income brackets

Awareness of telehealth services increased 48% since pandemic’s start

According to the Telehealth.com survey, 60% of Americans said they were aware of telehealth services prior to the start of the coronavirus pandemic, while 30% said they were not, and 10% said they weren’t sure or did not answer.  

Of that 30% who were not previously aware of telehealth services, 48% said they became aware of the practice since the start of the pandemic, while 38% said they still have not heard of telehealth services. 

Regardless of their level of awareness about telehealth services before the pandemic, just over half of our total survey respondents, 51.5%, said they have had a telehealth appointment during the pandemic for a routine check-up, or to address illness or pain. 

Among people who were aware of telehealth services prior to the pandemic, the use of the services jumped nearly 20%. Prior to the pandemic, 37% of people in this group said they had used telehealth services, while 56% had not. That number has now flipped, with 56% of respondents saying they’ve had a telehealth appointment during the pandemic, and 37% saying they have not. Seven percent of respondents in this group said they weren’t sure, or did not answer. 

Of those respondents who became aware of telehealth services during the pandemic, 47% said they have now had a telehealth appointment, while 43% have not, and 10% weren’t sure, or did not answer. 

Since learning about telehealth during the pandemic, 59% of Americans say they will prefer this type of care in the future 

When asked if they will prefer telehealth services or in-person doctor visits after the pandemic ends, the majority of survey respondents, 62%, said they think they will still prefer telehealth, regardless of their level of awareness of the practice before the pandemic. This indicates a significant shift in preference compared to before the pandemic.

According to the survey, before the pandemic, individuals who were aware of telehealth services said they would prefer an in-person doctor visit to a telehealth appointment by a rate of 50% to 38%. Now, however, 65% of people in this group said even after the pandemic ends, they think they will prefer telehealth doctor’s appointments, compared to 23% who said they think they will still prefer in-person appointments. 

For people who just learned about telehealth services during the pandemic, and had their first telehealth appointments in the last year, the services are nearly as popular. Fifty-nine percent of people in this group said they think they will prefer telehealth services in the future, compared to 36% who want to return to in-person medical appointments. 

Nearly 90% of people who have used telehealth services rate them highly

Perhaps one reason for the shift towards a preference in telehealth services is that, according to our survey, individuals who had telehealth appointments were largely satisfied with the medical attention they received. We asked survey respondents who had telehealth appointments to rate the quality of care and attention they received on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being “terrible,” and 10 being “excellent.” 

Overall, 89.5% of respondents gave the quality of the medical attention they received a score of 5 or higher. Individuals who had awareness of telehealth services pre-pandemic were slightly more likely to rate the services highly. Twenty-three percent of people in this group rated the services they received an 8; 14% rated them as a 9, and 22% rated them as a 10. Only 11% of people in this group gave the services they received a rating of 4 or lower. 

Wealthier Americans are more likely to be aware of and utilize telehealth services than lower-income individuals

Despite the overall popularity of telehealth services, awareness and usage is not occurring at the same rates among all demographics in the U.S.. This reflects larger inequities in the U.S. healthcare system, many of which have been exposed by the coronavirus pandemic

For example, our survey found that the higher an individual’s annual income, the more likely they were to be aware of telehealth services before the pandemic. People who earn $150,000 or more per year were almost twice as likely to be aware of telehealth services as those who make less than $25,000 per year, by a rate of 82% to 42.5%. 

Since the start of the pandemic, 64% of people who earn $150,000 or more annually said they have become aware of telehealth services, compared to 40% of people who earn under $25,000 per year. 

The highest earners were also the most likely to have a telehealth appointment during the pandemic. Sixty-four percent of people who earn more than $150,000 annually have had a medical appointment via telehealth this year, compared to 44% of people who earn between $25,000 and $74,999 annually. 

Our survey also found that an individual’s ethnicity has an impact on their awareness and utilization of telehealth services.

Prior to the pandemic, 65% of White Americans were aware of telehealth services, compared to 40% of Black Americans, 43% of Hispanic/Latinx Americans, and 51% of Asian Americans. During the pandemic, awareness of telehealth services increased the most for White Americans, 54% of whom said they learned about this method of healthcare delivery in the past year. By comparison, 40% of Hispanic/Latinx Americans, 42% of Black Americans, and 50% of Asian Americans said they learned about telehealth since the pandemic struck. 

White individuals are also the most likely to have received medical attention via telehealth both before and during the pandemic, albeit by smaller margins. During the pandemic, 57% of White Americans have had a telehealth appointment, compared to 43% of Asian Americans, 44% of Hispanic/Latinx Americans, and 54% of Black Americans. 

Perhaps because of these disparities, White Americans are also the most likely to say they think they will prefer telehealth appointments over in-person doctor visits in the future, with 67.5% of people in this group voicing this preference. However, the majority of Black and Hispanic/Latinx Americans who used telehealth services, 59%, said they also think they will prefer telehealth in the future. By comparison, the majority of Asian Americans, 53%, said they still prefer in-person doctor visits, with only 35.5% saying they will favor telehealth in the future. 

More than ⅔ of Millennials say they will prefer telehealth services post-pandemic

In another indication that telehealth services are likely a long-term trend, the most enthusiastic adopters of telehealth services are individuals ages 35-44, with 70.5% of respondents in this age group saying they think they will prefer this healthcare delivery method even after the pandemic ends. 

This preference is a shift from before the pandemic, when individuals ages 45-54 years old were the most likely group to utilize telehealth services. Forty-nine percent of people in this age group said they had a telehealth appointment prior to the pandemic, compared to 40% of 35-44 year-olds. However, 61% of people 35-44 said they had their first telehealth appointment during the pandemic, compared to 52% of people ages 45-54. 

The youngest and oldest individuals surveyed remain the least likely to be aware of and utilize telehealth services. Prior to the pandemic, awareness of telehealth services was lowest among 18-24 year-olds, with only 32% of people in this age bracket saying they had heard of the practice. Since the pandemic started, only an additional 26% of 18-24 year-olds said they have heard of telehealth services, and only 39% of them have actually had a telehealth appointment.

Meanwhile, although survey respondents ages 54 and older were more aware of telehealth services, they were less likely to utilize them during the pandemic, despite the particular risks COVID-19 poses to people in this age group. Only 36% of people who are 54 or older said they had a medical appointment via telehealth during the pandemic. They are also almost evenly split in their preferences going forward, with 36.5% of respondents saying they still prefer an in-person doctor visit, 33.5% saying they prefer telehealth services, and 30% saying they weren’t sure.

Methodology

The data from this report comes from an online survey administered by online survey platform Pollfish. The survey was created and paid for by Telehealth.com. In total, 1000 Americans ages 18 to 54 and older were surveyed about their awareness, utilization, and preferences regarding telehealth services for medical appointments before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. This survey was conducted from February 1-2, 2021.

Full Survey Results

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, had you ever heard of telehealth services?

  • Yes (60%)
  • No (30%)
  • Not sure/I’d rather not say (10%)

Prior to the pandemic, would you have preferred a telehealth appointment or in-person doctor visit for any sort of medical reason (routine check up, illness, pain etc.)

  • I would have preferred a telehealth appointment (38%)
  • I would have preferred an in-person doctor visit (50%)
  • Not sure/I’d rather not say (12%)

Prior to the pandemic, had you ever had a telehealth appointment?

  • Yes (37%)
  • No (56%)
  • I’d rather not say (7%)

Since the pandemic started, have you had a telehealth appointment?

  • Yes (56%)
  • No (37%) 
  • I’d rather not say (7%)

Now, would you prefer a telehealth appointment or in-person doctor visit for any sort of medical reason (routine check up, illness, pain, etc.)?

  • I would prefer a telehealth appointment (46%)
  • I would prefer an in-person doctor visit (43%)
  • Not sure/I’d rather not say (11%)

Once the pandemic is over and things go back to normal, do you think you will still prefer a telehealth appointment or will you prefer an in-person doctor visit for any sort of medical reason (routine check up, illness, pain, etc.)

  • I think I will still prefer a telehealth appointment (65%)
  • I think I will prefer an in-person doctor visit) (23%)
  • Not sure/I’d rather not say (12%)

Since the pandemic started, have you heard of telehealth services?

  • Yes (48%)
  • No (38%)
  • Not sure/I’d rather not say (14%)

Since the pandemic started, have you had a telehealth appointment?

  • Yes (47%)
  • No (43%)
  • I’d rather not say (10%)

Now, would you prefer a telehealth appointment or in-person doctor visit for any sort of medical reason (routine check up, illness, pain, etc.)?

  • I would prefer a telehealth appointment (27%)
  • I would prefer an in-person doctor visit (57%)
  • Not sure/I’d rather not say (16%)

Once the pandemic is over and things go back to normal, do you think you will still prefer a telehealth appointment or will you prefer an in-person doctor visit for any sort of medical reason (routine check up, illness, pain, etc.)

  • I think I will still prefer a telehealth appointment (59%)
  • I think I will prefer an in-person doctor visit (36%)
  • Not sure/I’d rather not say (5%)