Study Finds High Satisfaction With Telehealth During Pandemic Among Older Adults

Despite the widespread desire for in-person treatment among adults over 65, many were content with telemedicine throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and want it to be available going forward, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (AGS). During the COVID-19 crisis, many patients and healthcare professionals turned to telehealth since limitations on in-person care were being implemented. Seniors in particular benefited from telehealth’s ability to keep care accessible throughout this period, but the research team at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center wanted to determine how satisfied these elderly patients were with their virtual care.

The researchers conducted the study based on English-speaking, cognitively-intact, 65 year old and above adults , who had a phone-only or video telehealth visit with their primary care physician within 10 different practices in Massachusetts since March 2020. The average age of the study population was 74.4 years. 61.4 percent of patients had at least one comorbid condition, 64.4 percent were female, 91.4 percent were non-Hispanic White, and 47.2 percent had a phone-only appointment. The study’s questionnaire asked respondents to rate their overall satisfaction with telehealth on a 7-point scale and to contrast it with in-person treatment in the study questionnaire.

On a scale of one to seven, researchers determined that the median patient satisfaction score was six. Patients who were non-White expressed a one point lower average satisfaction rating than non-Hispanic Whites. Additionally, individuals who had comorbidities reported scores that were on average 0.5 points lower than those who did not. Overall, participants believed that telehealth was worse than a regular in-person visit and 22.2% stated they were less inclined to inquire about various health issues during a telehealth appointment. Participants who left open-ended comments on the survey expressed satisfaction with telehealth and appreciation for its convenience, but they also mentioned technical issues and a preference for in-person treatment. Despite this, the majority of participants favored keeping telehealth as a choice. 

The study’s authors believe that its results will help inform policymakers on their decisions for the future of telehealth. However, the study’s authors also identified a number of limitations, such as the use of data from only one health system, the absence of diversity in the patient group, and potential changes in public attitudes of telehealth since the poll was performed.