Hospices and other health care providers have greatly expanded the use of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. New research shows that patients and families have an overall positive perception of these services.
The scope of telehealth has significantly broadened during the ongoing federally declared health emergency, with the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issuing new waivers and flexibilities to allow providers to continue patient care from a distance and minimize risk of COVID-19 exposure.
Conducted in collaboration with Wakefield Research, Boston-based data solutions company Kyruss surveyed 1,000 patients and families between February and May 2020 to gauge feedback regarding virtual care services they received, including those in hospice, among other settings. Patient care experience and future interest in telehealth were among the survey’s primary focuses.
“Overall patient satisfaction with virtual care was high,” the report stated. “With half of respondents willing to switch providers for the offering.”
According to the survey’s findings, more than 75% of respondents were satisfied with their virtual care and nearly as many responded that they would want to continue with telehealth utilization as a standard part of their care. However, variations existed between the three generational groups surveyed. While 77% of Baby Boomers were “very or completely” satisfied with the telehealth care received, this was lower than groups such as Millennials reporting an 89% satisfaction.
The main drivers of dissatisfaction were quality of care, impersonal experience and technical issues, while convenience, speed of access and safety of being at home drove patient satisfaction. Facing patient reluctance and fear of home-based in-person visits, telehealth has been vital for providers to remain connected to those most vulnerable of COVID-19 impacts.
Many hospice leaders and advocates have called for regulatory action to make the temporary telehealth flexibilities permanent, with patients joining the charge for change as well. The survey’s findings additionally indicated that telehealth may be a critical component of patient care in the post-pandemic landscape.
“Patients’ satisfaction with virtual care goes beyond the virtual care visit itself. In fact, 86% of patients agreed that they felt more satisfied with their provider and/or health system because they could access virtual care visits, indicating that it may play an important role in patient retention moving forward,” according to the report.
While telehealth can be challenging for those unfamiliar with technology and older populations with hearing or vision issues, it has kept providers in touch with hospice patients, families and caregivers throughout the pandemic, even expanding geographical reach to provide care to those beyond local service areas.
As with all 1135 waivers, the loosened telehealth requirements are temporary, and hospices will need to resume compliance after the federally declared national emergency expires, unless the provisions are indeed made permanent. With many uncertainties lying ahead as COVID-19 cases surge with reopening states, hospice providers continue to strategize on ways to incorporate telehealth and maintain quality end-of-life care virtually to patients and families.