Background: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has rapidly been adopted to deliver healthcare services around the world. To date, research has not investigated how people's experience with telehealth services compare to traditional in-person visits during the pandemic in Australia.
Objective: To determine how participants perceived telehealth consults in comparison to traditional in-person visits, and to investigate whether people believe that telehealth services would be useful beyond the pandemic.
Methods: A national cross-sectional community survey was conducted between June 5th and June 12th in Australia. Participants aged 18 years and over and living in Australia were recruited via targeted advertisements on social media (Facebook and Instagram) (n=1369). Participants responded to survey questions about their telehealth experience, which included a free-text response option. A generalised linear model was used to estimate adjusted relative risks of having a poorer telehealth experience compared to traditional in-person visits. Content analysis was used to determine the reasons provided for why telehealth experiences were worse than traditional in-person visits.
Results: Of the 596 telehealth users, the majority of respondents (62%) rated their telehealth experience as "just as good" or "better" than a traditional in-person medical appointment. On average, respondents perceived that telehealth would be moderately to very useful for medical appointments after the COVID-19 pandemic is over (M=3.67 out of 5, SD=1.1). Being male (p=0.007), having a history of both depression and anxiety (p=0.037), or lower patient activation (individuals' willingness to take on the role of managing their health/healthcare) (p=0.037) were associated with a poorer telehealth experience. Six overarching themes were identified from free-text responses of why telehealth experience was poorer than a traditional in-person medical appointment: communication is not as effective; limitations with technology; issues with obtaining prescriptions and pathology; reduced confidence in doctor; additional burden for complex care; and inability to be physically examined.
Conclusions: Telehealth appointments were reported to be comparable to traditional in-person medical appointments by most of our sample. Telehealth may be worthwhile as mode of healthcare delivery while the pandemic continues and may be worthwhile beyond the pandemic.