Rock Health and the Stanford Center of Digital Health continue to track the trends and growth of telemedicine. We last covered the collaboration’s Digital Health Consumer Adoption Survey 2020. The 2020 survey of 7,980 U.S. adults was based on contacts during September and early October 2020. The 2020 survey reported 43% of respondents had experienced live video telemedicine, an increase of 11% from 2019’s study. Also in 2020, 43% of the surveyed contacts had experience with wearables and digital trackers, up from 33% in the previous year. The Rock Health Digital Health Consumer Adoption 2021 indicates continued telemedicine growth as well as notable changes in digital health offerings and use.

Rock Health surveyed 7,980 adults during the summer and early fall of 2021. In a news release about the latest survey, the researchers stress that telemedicine is more than live phone and video calls. According to Rock Health, “We define telemedicine as tech-enabled modalities that enable consumers to receive medical care or advice remotely from clinicians. Telemedicine can be synchronous (a live video visit or phone call) or asynchronous (exchanging a text, email, or picture with a clinician).” This explicitly broadened definition sets a basis for viewing the reported changes in consumer adoption.

Based on the same number (7,980) of survey respondents in 2021 as in 2020, 51% of consumers contacted said they had previously used live video telemedicine, up 8% from 2020. The Rock Health survey also breaks out other forms of telemedicine, as defined above, including live phone calls, health app or website use, email, text messaging, plus other-than-live images and video content. Consumers reported increases in all forms of telemedicine in 2021 compared to 2020 except live phone calls. Live video was the most widely used telemedicine modality.

The survey also found that 43% of consumers surveyed reported higher satisfaction with live video telemedicine compared to prior in-person care. This number is a surprising drop from 53% reporting higher satisfaction in 2020. Fox Health hypothesizes that as telemedicine offerings broaden, consumers more often consider telemedicine as an alternative care instead of a replacement for in-person care. In 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic locked down many areas, Rock Health suggests that gratitude for care in any form from a famously over-stressed healthcare system may have been a major factor in reported satisfaction. Now that in-person care possibilities have largely returned, consumers are more critical of anything other than face-to-face services.

Rock Health also reported on consumers’ preferred method of medical care based on specific care needs. They found, for example, that 41% of respondents preferred live video telemedicine for treatment for colds or flu, but only 12% most favored telemedicine for physical therapy. Notably, consumers preferred live care in a medical professional’s office for physical therapy, annual checkups, and mental health care, but not for flu or cold or prescription refills.

As in previous surveys, Rock Health found that people with higher incomes, greater education, and younger ages were more likely to use telemedicine than those with lower incomes, less education, and more years.

Looking forward, the Digital Health Consumer Adoption Survey 2020 points to new assumptions about telemedicine. The researchers state that telemedicine will continue to be seen as a tool, not as a new business model. Patients already see telemedicine as virtual-first care, not a replacement for care. Telemedicine’s role will increasingly address targeted care needs and not be a solution for one-size-fits-all for general medical care.