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For Rock Health, telemedicine is tech-enabled modalities that enable consumers to receive medical care or advice from clinicians remotely, whether live or not. Rock Health is a United States of America (USA)-based consultancy and advisory team with board members interested representing start-ups and venture capital.

Explore Rock Health’s latest survey results on use of telemedicine in the USA. They include useful insights for consumers and innovators/entrepreneurs as well as clinicians. Following an introduction to three new telemedicine paradigms, Rock Health explores the insights, facts and figures, and the implications emerging in 2021.

2021’s main take-aways on telemedicine

In the future, virtual-first care models will proliferate, and asynchronous modalities of telemedicine will “enable models that are more scalable, cost-effective, accessible, and … equitable”.

For innovators: There are opportunities for innovators with telemedicine offerings to compete on “experience and outcomes” (based on the “nuanced preferences” of consumers).

For clinicians and consumers: The path forward points to continued use of virtual care by clinicians and consumers. Satisfaction with use remains high.

It will surely be interesting to reflect on how telemedicine use continues – in 2022 and beyond – as the effects of COVID-19, and its various variants, change over time.

2021 survey findings

Rock Health has conducted annual surveys every year since 2015. Almost 8,000 US adults completed a questionnaire in 2021. Together with Stanford Medicine Center for Digital Health, the survey asked which people are using telemedicine, what they use it for, and whether they like it.

Rock Health especially hopes to help innovators in start-ups, enterprises, and the public sphere to put consumers “at the centre” when they are building healthcare and virtual care solutions.

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Two quick messages about the 2021 survey findings

Let’s look at three new paradigms into what’s happening now.

Three new telemedicine paradigms

These are the three new developing paradigms. More detail is available online:

  • Telemedicine as a tool:

“Telemedicine is one tool within a comprehensive offering and experience.” There are mergers between different tools and “modalities”, that are engaging clinicians and patients who have a focus on “outcomes”.

  • Virtual-first care:

There is a convergence around so-called “omnichannel” approaches that integrate experiences that occur both offline-to-online and online-to-offline. The actual “touchpoints” can occur in a variety of locations, from home to care.

  • Telemedicine built for (more) targeted care needs:

There is a focus on telemedicine for a variety of specialist clinical needs (in “times of COVID”, note e.g., an interest in auto-immune disorders).

Three insights

Here are three insights into what happened with telemedicine in 2021 in the USA:

  • Insight #1: Live video
    • “2021 marks the first year in which live video was the most used telemedicine modality” (more than in e.g., 2019 or 2020). Physicians’ use of telemedicine had “skyrocketed” in 2020. Consumers seem to have used telemedicine-related live video through their doctors, rather than through e.g., a health insurer or an employer.
      • Implications: Be aware of the specific characteristics of USA-based reimbursement schemes. More virtual care offerings are becoming available. Entrepreneurs will need to design/test for an optimal mix of telemedicine modalities to meet the needs of the populations for which they are building solutions.
    • Insight #2: Consumer satisfaction with telemedicine
      • In 2021, while consumers are satisfied, their rate of satisfaction was less than in 2020; fewer clinicians had a favourable view of telemedicine. Numbers are, however, still considerable (43%/58%).
        • Consumers used telemedicine less for medical emergencies and more for minor conditions.
        • It was becoming important to understand consumer preferences in specific contexts (especially because people will compare their online experiences to their real-life experiences, e.g., when medicines are prescribed or when physical therapy is given).
        • Implications: 73% of previous telemedicine users expected to use telemedicine at the same rate as before or more in the future. Two factors were important in influencing telemedicine satisfaction and adoption: personalisation and “fulfilment”. For companies, organisational partnerships will be important in terms of bringing together their assets all along the patient’s care journey.
      • Insight #3: Inequities in access to telemedicine
        • In 2021, inequities relate to access to technology and the Internet, device ownership, and digital literacy.
          • Most telemedicine users had higher incomes, no chronic conditions, and were younger and had higher educational qualifications. Non-white respondents were significantly more likely to use telemedicine than those who identified themselves as white. The chronic conditions that people using telemedicine were most likely to have included long-COVID, type 1 diabetes, and chronic kidney disease.
          • 28% of survey respondents reported no previous use of telemedicine (these people were most likely to be more than 55+ years old, with low incomes, who were rural residents, and who did not have any medical prescriptions and had no health insurance). 40% of rural respondents reported no use of telemedicine. Poor cellular or broadband communication played a role as a barrier, especially for rural residents.
          • Implications: Companies are increasingly addressing gaps in telemedicine use, including tailoring their offerings according to people’s language, race, and gender. Larger policy pushes to overcome health disparities are foreseen in the future.


For more info:

Listen to the Scottish Government’s Cat Macauley on “no-one left behind”, during the 2021 Thought Leader EHTEL Symposium.

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