Telemedicine, according to the NHS, involves “telecommunication and information technology for the purpose of providing remote health assessments and therapeutic interventions.”
Telemedicine has been a vital tool in maintaining access to healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks in part to telemedicine software, patients can now see medical professionals remotely via the internet or telephone consultations. Remote appointments help health providers limit the number of people who visit their physical site and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
To discover more about telemedicine in the UK, Capterra surveyed more than 1,000 UK residents who had attended a healthcare appointment within the last 12 months (scroll to the bottom of the article for a full methodology). Respondents used teleconsulting for a wide range of medical appointment types, but the most common by a long shot was to consult with their GP (45%).
Nearly 4 in 5 new telemedicine patients would use it again
54% of respondents to the Capterra survey have used telemedicine before. Of these, 88% did so for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the majority of these telemedicine appointments (86%) were not related to COVID-19 symptoms.
Those who experienced remote consultations seem to like them. In total, 79% of people who used telemedicine for the first time during the pandemic would like to continue doing so after restrictions are lifted. 61% said they would choose it “in some cases”, while 18% say they want to use telemedicine exclusively going forward, regardless of whether there’s a pandemic or not.
Of those who would not choose telemedicine in the future – 21% of new telemedicine patients – two reasons attracted 91% of responses: “I feel more comfortable in person” (44%) and “not being able to receive physical examinations” (47%).
COVID-19 is not the only driver of telemedicine uptake
Although telemedicine usage has increased because of the COVID-19 restrictions, remote healthcare has been around for many years and has additional benefits beyond reducing physical contact.
- 51% of respondents to the Capterra survey chose telemedicine because it was the only option available to them at the time.
- 26% wanted to avoid exposing themselves and others to possible contagion.
- 25% did so because they could get an appointment sooner than in person.
- 30% say that practical reasons (e.g. no time wasted with transport, no waiting time in the doctor’s office) were the main driver.
Telemedicine is also a convenient method for handling consultations that don’t require patients to be physically present, such as arranging repeat medication. 30% of people who chose telemedicine say they did so because their problem did not require an in-person consultation.
According to the survey, telemedicine has a reasonable success rate. 56% of telemedicine patients say the treatment they received remotely was enough to solve their problem. A further 15% required a secondary online consultation with the same doctor, and 7% had an online consultation with another professional to get a different diagnosis or treatment. 22% went on to seek further advice in person.
Despite the popularity of telemedicine, the in-person experience remains vital for some. 24% of people who had not had a telemedicine appointment would not be interested in trying it in the future. When asked why, 70% say they would prefer to speak in-person with a doctor, while 40% don’t think doctors can give an accurate diagnosis online.
The mobile phone is the most popular telemedicine device
Phone calls were the most popular method for carrying out telemedicine consultations, being employed by 69% of telemedicine patients. 17% favoured a medical video conference app, while 10% used a proprietary application provided by their health insurer, clinic, or hospital.
Mobile phones were also the most popular device for telemedicine as they can be used for both voice calls and video consultations. 77% of telemedicine patients carried out their appointment over the phone, followed by 14% who used a computer and 9% who favoured a tablet.
As well as communication technologies that enable patients and doctors to talk and see each other, many other devices and software exist to help both parties record and share medical information that could prove useful during diagnosis or treatment. 43% of respondents use such apps, with the most popular being step monitoring (58%). Sleep monitoring (39%), heart-rate monitoring (34%), and COVID warning tools, such as the NHS COVID-19 contact tracing app, were also widely used (30%).
Data protection remains a concern for some patients
Using digital health services necessarily involves the transfer and storage of personal and medical data. This raises issues of privacy – a complex subject that not every patient understands well.
While a preference for in-person consultation is the major blocker for patients who do not want to try telemedicine, some are worried about the technical aspect. Fear of technical problems and concerns about data protection were cited by 16% of respondents each as reasons for not wanting to try telemedicine in the future.
In the next article of this series, we will explore patients’ attitudes to data protection in relation to telemedicine and telehealth. We will also look at the implications of artificial intelligence (AI) in medicine and how patients feel about its real-world use.
To collect the data for this report, we conducted an online survey in April 2021 Of the total respondents, we were able to identify 1,018 UK respondents that fit within our criteria:
- UK resident
- Over 18 years of age
- Had a healthcare appointment within the last 12 months
- Normally goes to the doctor at least once a year