Patterns of Use and Correlates of Patient Satisfaction with a Large Nationwide Direct to Consumer Telemedicine Service

J Gen Intern Med. 2018 Oct;33(10):1768-1773. doi: 10.1007/s11606-018-4621-5. Epub 2018 Aug 15.


Background: Despite its rapid expansion, little is known about use of direct to consumer (DTC) telemedicine.

Objective: To characterize telemedicine patients and physicians and correlates of patient satisfaction DESIGN: Cross-sectional study PARTICIPANTS: Patients and physicians of a large nationwide DTC telemedicine service MAIN MEASURES: Patient characteristics included demographics and whether or not they reported insurance information. Physician characteristics included specialty, board certification, and domestic versus international medical training. Encounter characteristics included time of day, wait time, length, coupon use for free or reduced-cost care, diagnostic outcome, prescription receipt, and patient/physician geographic concordance. Patients rated satisfaction with physicians on scales of 0 to 5 stars and reported where they would have sought care had they not used telemedicine. Logistic regression was used to assess factors associated with 5-star physician ratings.

Key results: The analysis included 28,222 encounters between 24,040 patients and 277 physicians completed between January 2013 and August 2016. Sixty-five percent of patients were under 40 years and 32% did not report insurance information. Family medicine was the most common physician specialty (47%) and 16% trained at a non-US medical school. Coupons were used in 24% of encounters. Respiratory infections were diagnosed in 35% of encounters and 69% resulted in a prescription. Had they not used telemedicine, 43% of patients reported they would have used urgent care/retail clinic, 29% would have gone to the doctor's office, 15% would have done nothing, and 6% would have gone to the emergency department. Eighty-five percent of patients rated their physician 5 stars. High satisfaction was positively correlated with prescription receipt (OR 2.98; 95%CI 2.74-3.23) and coupon use (OR 1.47; 95%CI 1.33-1.62).

Conclusions: Patients were largely satisfied with DTC telemedicine, yet satisfaction varied by coupon use and prescription receipt. The impact of telemedicine on primary care and emergency department use is likely to be small under present usage patterns.

Keywords: consumer health; patient satisfaction; telemedicine.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • California
  • Clinical Competence
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration
  • Delivery of Health Care / standards
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Services Research / methods
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Satisfaction / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Telemedicine / organization & administration*
  • Telemedicine / standards
  • Telemedicine / statistics & numerical data