Recall any time you’ve been to a physician’s office: Have you ever once thought, “I’m really glad I got to sit in a waiting room today.”? Even for the shortest of waits? Due to COVID-19 restrictions and telehealth shifts, waiting rooms are empty these days, and most patients prefer it that way.
In a recent patient survey by CoverMyMeds which informed the COVID-19 & Medication Access report, we asked what positive healthcare adaptations during the pandemic they would like to see continue, and what new aspects of telehealth they’d like to see moving forward. These insights can be key as we continue to leverage technology and curate environments for better patient care, including medication access.
In the wake of the pandemic, many workers who previously thought or were told their job couldn’t be done from home, suddenly found it possible. And so followed healthcare. You’ve likely heard anecdotes of friends and family renewing prescriptions, receiving dermatology diagnoses and even engaging in physical therapy without ever reaching for car keys.
The astronomical increase in telehealth appointments — as high as 8,000 percent for some health systems1 — expedites the triage process and keeps patients out of germ-riddled waiting rooms. It’s no wonder 54 percent of patients surveyed listed this as a keeper for healthcare moving forward.2
While technology can’t replace all appointments, it’s a no-brainer option, especially for those with chronic conditions requiring multiple follow-up appointments or for an initial assessment of a sudden, non-life-threatening illness or injury.3
And while not all patients may be comfortable with videoconferencing, telehealth can come in many forms: elderly patients tend to prefer and respond well to telephone conversations, while other patient populations fare better with asynchronous appointments, not unlike a text or email conversation they would have with a friend or colleague.4
In an effort to reduce trips to the pharmacy, many states relaxed prescription quantity limits to allow patients who would normally receive a 30-day fill of their prescription to receive 90-day fills.5 Sixty-four percent of patients we surveyed would like to see this trend continue.2
Fifty-one percent of patients surveyed said virtual communication with the pharmacy was a telehealth aspect they’d like to see moving forward.2
While many pharmacies were overwhelmed with phone calls, patients could use apps to track and request prescription fills, and in some cases communicate with the pharmacist. With patients seeing their pharmacist up to 10 times more often than their physician, open, accessible communication channels with the pharmacy can be crucial for patient medication access and adherence.6
Available pharmacy technology is expanding: CVS even launched a Spoken Rx feature, using the CVS app to read a smart tag on customers’ prescription labels for visually impaired patients.7
When both a diagnosis and prescription are likely to come via telehealth appointment, an ideal scenario allows patients to use the same technology to compare prescription cost and payment options.
It makes sense that 34 percent of patients surveyed are looking at prescription price-shopping tools as a new mainstay.2 At one point over a quarter of the U.S. workforce filed for unemployment benefits.8 Suddenly more than 20 million Americans were without income and health coverage.
Patients should be able to consider the cash price of their medication, whether they have health insurance or not. Since the beginning of COVID-19, more than one in five patients surveyed said they’ve used a cash price program to help afford medications.
At one time, patients had to obtain a subpoena if they wanted to view their own medical record.9Today, health records access is much easier to obtain for patients. Still, more than half of patients surveyed listed easier access to their own records as one key aspect of healthcare they’d like to see improve moving forward. As of 2017, 52 percent of patients reported they were offered online access to their medical record through their provider or health plan.10 But only twenty-eight percent actually viewed their record at least once within the year.10
Patients need easy access to their own health records, especially in a world where health data no longer sits in a stationary file at the family doctor’s office. In fact, at least a quarter of Americans don’t have a primary care provider, and could stand to benefit from nimbler, more patient-facing health records across health systems.10
Providers can help with this by updating their EHRs to allow the most current bi-directional data sharing with patients. This can also cut down on administrative work by allowing patients to supply necessary data ahead of time and update in real-time. They can also simply mention online health records: 63 percent of patients who viewed their medical records were encouraged to do so by their providers.10
EHR vendors can embrace and promote open application programming interfaces (APIs) for their clients to open the door for more tools and apps. These enhance the patient experience and allow them a greater hand in their healthcare, no matter where they’re receiving care.
The Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) Cures Act Final Rule passed earlier this year laid the groundwork for future API use and patient data transparency while enabling data privacy and safety.12
COVID-19 has put the healthcare industry under a looking glass. Combined with the rising trend of healthcare consumerism, patients may be more aware than ever about technology options to connect with their healthcare providers and the industry as a whole in the future. Read more results from our patient survey in the COVID-19 & Medication Access report.
WVU Medicine to waive telehealth co-pays through May 31, WVU School of Medicine, 2020
COVID-19 Patient Survey, CoverMyMeds, 2020
Is telehealth as good as in-person care?, The Conversation, 2020
Possibilities and Limits of Telehealth for Older Adults During the COVID-19 Emergency, Kaiser Family Foundation, 2020
COVID-19: Information From the States, National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations, 2020
Pharmacists as accessible primary health care providers: Review of the evidence, National Institutes of Health, 2018
CVS launches spoken prescription tech for app users, Healthcare Dive, 2020
Unemployment Weekly Claims, U.S. Department of Labor, 2020
The Effects of Promoting Patient Access to Medical Records: A Review, Journal of American Medical Informatics Association, 2003
Individuals’ use of online medical records and technology for health needs, ONC Data Brief, 2018
Characteristics of Americans With Primary Care and Changes Over Time, 2002-2015, JAMA Network, 2019
ONC Cures Act Final Rule, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, 2020