Why Follow-Up Visits Should Go Virtual
Follow-up visits are typically brief check-ins between doctor and patient to monitor a patient’s progress. Has the patient experienced any new symptoms since the last visit? Is their medication in need of a refill? Would they like to discuss their latest lab results? These routine appointments help patients stay healthy, improve patient satisfaction, and drive additional revenue while reducing downstream costs.
Virtual care offers new possibilities for convenient, frictionless access to follow-up visits. Health systems and health plans should keep these trends in mind as they optimize the follow-up stage of their telemedicine experiences.
Telemedicine Patients are Likely to Stay Virtual for Follow-up Vists
After a consumer exits a virtual visit, where will they seek care next?
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine appeared to lead to more in-person follow-up care downstream. A University of Michigan analysis of telemedicine appointments conducted between 2016 and 2019 found that 10% of patients who attended a virtual visit also scheduled an in-person follow-up visit. Only 5.9% of those who had an in-person visit also scheduled an in-person follow-up. This trend signalled that telemedicine may make patients more likely to seek additional care in-person, even if the follow-up visit isn’t medically necessary.
Since telemedicine entered the mainstream, consumers have demonstrated a growing preference for virtual follow-ups. The COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition’s April consumer survey revealed that telehealth patients are more likely to continuing using telehealth:
- 55% of consumers said they needed follow-up care after their virtual visit.
- 57.9% of consumers said they received follow-up care through an additional virtual visit.
- Only 15% of consumers received follow-up care face-to-face in a provider’s office.
- 91% of consumers said getting a prescription was easy following their telehealth visit.
Virtual Follow-up Visits See High Patient Satisfaction
A positive rapport between doctor and patient is essential for facilitating consistent follow-up visits. If providers shift these visits to telemedicine and remove the human element, will patient satisfaction and loyalty decline?
Industry research suggests that patients are just as satisfied with telemedicine appointments as they are with in-person appointments. A 2019 study published in American Journal of Managed Care found that 62% of patients and 59% of providers reported no difference in the quality of virtual visits versus traditional office visits. Moreover, 79% of patients felt that it was easier to find a convenient time for a follow-up telemedicine visit than a traditional office visit.
These findings were echoed in a 2021 NYU Langone Health study, which compared patient satisfaction between in-office follow-up and synchronous video visits. Researchers found that patient satisfaction was equal across both care settings. Seventy-nine percent of patients who attended a virtual follow-up also expressed that they preferred the video visit.
Consumers also report that they don’t feel disconnected from their providers during telemedicine appointments. According to the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition, 81% of consumers agreed that “My telehealth visit provided me with a sense of access and continuity of care.” Another 71% expressed that they “felt a personal connection with the provider.”
Consumers Prefer Digital Post-Visit Communications
There exist significant opportunities for providers to engage patients after their virtual visit. Whether it’s to coordinate follow-up visits, get test results, or encourage the patient to engage in preventative care measures such as an annual wellness exam or flu shot, providers can better coordinate care by engaging patients after the appointment.
Automated email and text message notifications can prompt patients to schedule follow-up care and refill prescriptions. Consumer demand for digital post-visit notifications is growing. According to DocASAP’s 2020 consumer survey, 64% of patients prefer mobile-friendly channels (email, SMS, mobile app, online portal) for post-appointment communications, vs 27.9% who preferred phone calls. In 2019, 58% of consumers preferred digital channels and 31% preferred phone calls.
Next Steps Optimizing Virtual Care
To learn about shifting consumer preference for care and patient satisfaction with telemedicine, view our eBook, Telehealth: Taking the Healthcare Consumer’s Pulse in the New Normal.