Do Hospitals Need to Extend Telehealth Services? An Experimental Study of Different Telehealth Modalities during the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Background The COVID-19 pandemic has changed health care systems and clinical workflows in many countries, including the United States. This public health crisis has accelerated the transformation of health care delivery through the use of telehealth. Due to the coronavirus' severity and pathogenicity, telehealth services are considered the best platforms to meet suddenly increased patient care demands, reduce the transformation of the virus, and protect patients and health care workers. However, many hospitals, clinicians, and patients are not ready to switch to virtual care completely. Objectives We designed six experiments to examine how people (as an actual beneficiary of telehealth) evaluate five telehealth encounters versus face-to-face visits. Methods We used an online survey to collect data from 751 individuals (patients) in the United States. Results Findings demonstrate that significant factors for evaluating five types of telehealth encounters are perceived convenience expected from telehealth encounters, perceived psychological risks associated with telehealth programs, and perceived attentive care services delivered by telehealth platforms. However, significant elements for comparing telehealth services with traditional face-to-face clinic visits are perceived cost-saving, perceived time-saving, perceived hygienic services, perceived technical errors, perceived information completeness, perceived communication barriers, perceived trust in medical care platforms' competency, and perceived privacy concerns. Conclusion Although the in-person visit was reported as the most preferred care practice, there was no significant difference between people's willingness to use face-to-face visits versus virtual care. Nevertheless, before the widespread rollout of telehealth platforms, health care systems need to determine and address the challenges of implementing virtual care to improve patient engagement in telehealth services. This study also provides practical implications for health care providers to deploy telehealth effectively during the pandemic and postpandemic phases.



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