In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people put off in-person visits to the doctor’s office. They were able to do so because virtual visits allowed them to safely get the care they needed while avoiding the uncertainty and precautions that accompanied in-person visits, such as wearing masks, undergoing temperature checks and filling out screening questionnaires.
Now, as the United States emerges from the pandemic – with more than 170 million Americans having received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – health care booking behaviors are shifting once again.
To gain insight on appointment booking trends, Zocdoc, a free platform where people can find and book in-person or virtual health care, compiled “A Year in Hybrid Care.” The report shows how users’ booking choices evolved throughout the pandemic.
This analysis, which began in May 2020, the first full month Zocdoc enabled virtual visits, uncovered these key trends:
Proximity matters. When patients had a choice between booking a telehealth appointment with a doctor close by or a doctor far away, 70% chose a nearby doctor for their virtual visits. This implies patients intuitively know they may eventually want or need in-person care, and choosing a local provider makes it possible to pick up the conversation in-person right where it ended online. In fact, 50-60% of people who booked a virtual visit with select specialty providers (podiatrists; OB-GYNs; orthopedic surgeons; and ear, nose and throat specialists) booked a second, in-person appointment with that same practice.
Patients prefer in-person care. Across the United States, 33% of appointments booked via Zocdoc in May 2020 were telehealth visits – the highest single-month total during the pandemic. One year later, that number declined to 14%. With few exceptions, there was a shift back to in-person care across specialties between May 2020 and May 2021. This includes a 34% increase for neurologists; 31% increase for ear, nose and throat specialists; 29% increase for primary care physicians and dermatologists; 27% increase for allergists; 20% increase for urologists; and 19% increases for orthopedic surgeons and gastroenterologists.
Mental health bookings are staying virtual. Mental health is the only specialty in which virtual care bookings remain higher than peak pandemic booking levels. In May 2020, 75% of bookings with psychiatrists and 80% of bookings with psychologists were virtual. In May 2021, 85% of bookings with psychiatrists and 87% of bookings with psychologists were conducted via video.
“As we move toward more normalcy in the U.S., we are seeing that, with the exception of mental health, which saw more demand for virtual visits in May 2021 than May 2020, the future of health care is in-person,” said Oliver Kharraz, M.D., Zocdoc founder and CEO. “The booking trends of Zocdoc users show that while telehealth will remain an important part of the health care mix, it will be a complement to in-person care rather than a replacement.”
For more information and to view the full data analysis, visit zocdoc-inc.medium.com .