Bringing health care home: what we can learn from telehealth trends in rural Michigan

Comparing 2019 to 2021 data provides new insights into patient perceptions and use of telemedicine
Click the above to see the full report.

Lansing, Michigan (December 16, 2021) – Connected Nation (CN), through the work of its state program, Connected Nation Michigan (CN Michigan), today released a follow-up to its groundbreaking 2020 study on telehealth use and perceptions. “Bringing Health Care Home: Telehealth Trends in Rural Michigan” provides key findings, new insights, and clear guidance on how to approach telehealth needs in rural America.

“When we released the key findings from our initial study, we had no idea how timely it would become — just days later, the pandemic shut everything down,” said Eric Frederick, Executive Director, CN Michigan. “We already knew that it was important to better understand how patients use and perceive telehealth and to examine what barriers there may be to accessing this tool that can help improve health outcomes. What we didn’t know when we started our study in rural Michigan is that telehealth would become critical for keeping people safe during the pandemic.”

As of July 2021, telehealth usage had grown by an estimated 3,003% over pre-pandemic rates among Medicare users alone.* To explore this issue further, CN Michigan revisited the five rural Michigan counties profiled in the initial study, titled “Healthcare from anywhere: telehealth use & perceptions in rural Michigan.”  Those five counties are Dickinson, Gladwin, Osceola, Roscommon, and Sanilac.

“What we found was that rural residents in these areas are not only embracing telehealth at a growing rate, but many have no intention of returning to their pre-pandemic ways of almost exclusively in-person medical visits,” said Chris McGovern, Director, Research Development, CN and CN Michigan. “Overall, the study shows that telehealth saves patients significant time and money because they don’t have to travel, take off work, or pay for childcare so they can attend an in-person doctor’s visit. We also found that among the biggest barriers for expanding telehealth is the need to expand high-speed internet service in rural areas while also lifting restrictions that limit doctors’ use of telemedicine.”

Other trends identified in the report include the following:

  • The share of households that went online to interact with health care providers rose significantly, from 34% in 2019 to 54% of households in 2021.
  • Adults age 54 and younger, as well as households with children, are the most likely to interact with health care providers online.
  • The most popular way to interact online with health care providers is via email, followed by interacting on the provider’s website, in video meetings, and through texting.
  • Nearly 3 out of 10 households (29%) said that seeking health information online saved them trips to a health care provider’s office in the prior 12 months. On average, those households saved an average of 4.02 trips, for a total of 69,602 fewer visits over one year.
  • In these five counties, telehealth usage as described above represents a savings of nearly $13.6 million in one year, simply for 15-minute visits to general practitioners.
  • More than 2 out of 5 telehealth users (42%) started using telehealth tools less than 12 months ago. Three out of 10 (30%) said that concerns about COVID-19 had a major effect on their decision.

“Much of the data we’re getting through this study is validated further by national trends we’re seeing,” said McGovern. “For example, we learned that a majority, nearly 2 out of 3, of households with children interact with health care providers online — a much higher rate than those without kids. That reflects research recently released from Parks Associates, which found 82%** of U.S. broadband households with children have used telehealth, as opposed to 51% of households without children.”

As a result of these findings, CN Michigan provided four recommendations to continue the expansion of telehealth, which could also be applied nationally:

  1. Policymakers should support efforts to expand high-speed internet service to every household in Michigan

  2. Telehealth access and usage should continue to be monitored and expanded to include the entire state

  3. State and federal policymakers should make the current loosening of telehealth regulations permanent

  4. Telehealth access and usage should continue to be monitored

This study was funded through a grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund. Head to connectednation.hatfield.marketing or email us at info@connectednation.hatfield.marketing if you have any questions or would like more details about the report.

* https://www.cms.gov/medicare-telemedicine-snapshot

**Parks Associates consumer research numbers

MEDIA CONTACT:
Jessica Denson, Communications Director
Connected Nation
jdenson@connectednation.hatfield.marketing
502-341-2024

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About Connected Nation
Connected Nation is celebrating 20 years of service in 2021. Its mission is to improve lives by providing innovative solutions that expand access to and increase the adoption and use of broadband (high-speed internet) and its related technologies for all people. Everyone belongs in a Connected Nation.

The national nonprofit works with consumers, local community leaders, states, technology providers, and foundations to develop and implement technology expansion programs with core competencies centered on a mission to improve digital inclusion for people and places previously underserved or overlooked. For more information, please visit: connectednation.hatfield.marketing and follow Connected Nation on Facebook and Twitter.

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