Image of Jeff Kullgren, M.D., M.P.H.
Jeff Kullgren, M.D., M.P.H.

The growing number of older adults using telehealth this year are more comfortable interacting virtually than they were in 2019, according to new poll data from the University of Michigan. But the same number — two thirds — perceive quality of care to be higher in in-person visits.

The National Poll on Healthy Aging queried more than 2,000 adults aged 50 to 80 each year. Results released this week showed that fully one in four older Americans had a telemedicine visit in early 2020 (mostly by video). That’s compared with 4% of respondents to the 2019 poll who reported ever having a virtual visit.

Yet 17% in 2020 said they have never used a video conferencing tool for any reason. Although that is 11 percentage points lower than in 2019, it suggests that lack of experience or access could be a barrier to receiving care, the researchers said.

“This has been an extraordinary time for the telemedicine movement, and these poll results show just how powerful this ‘trial by fire’ has been,” said researcher Jeff Kullgren, M.D., M.P.H., who uses telehealth with his patients at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. “But our data also highlight areas of continued concern for patients that need to be addressed.”

Additional responses from older telehealth consumers, 2020 versus 2019:

  • Concerns about privacy during the visit: 24%, down from 49%
  • Concerns about difficulty seeing or hearing the provider during a video visit: 25%, down from 39%
  • Percentage who feel comfortable with video conferencing technologies: 64%, up from 53% in 2019
  • At least one healthcare provider offers telehealth visits: 62%, up from 14%
  • Interested in using telehealth to connect with a known (versus a new) provider: 72%, up from 58%
  • Percentage who said they would feel comfortable seeing a provider for the first time virtually: No change (about one in three would).

Results from the 2020 National Poll on Healthy Aging can be found here.