More private medical insurance policyholders have turned to remote or video GP consultation services since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Seemingly, more customers are seeking policies that offer access to these services as the pandemic has brought about permanent changes to the way we live and interact, giving a boost to the digital channel.
Although many insurers already offered remote/video GP consultations before COVID-19 hit, uptake was limited. Yet usage has risen sharply since the pandemic, signalling a change in consumers’ attitudes and behaviours. According to GlobalData’s 2019–21 UK Insurance Consumer Surveys, 34.8% of private medical policyholders used a remote/video GP consultation service in 2021, up from 17.5% in 2019 and 26.5% in 2020.
The speed at which consumers have embraced telehealth services in recent years is due to several factors. Firstly, more insurers adopted telehealth services as the impact of the pandemic expanded, increasing the reach to customers. Meanwhile, at the start of the pandemic, many GP surgeries and insurers put greater emphasis on carrying out virtual consultations to reduce the flow of patients at medical practices, easing the fears of patients regarding contracting the virus while complying with social distancing measures.
While many customers may have been reluctant to use telehealth services in the past, the experience of using them – whether by personal choice or not – is bound to have changed some of their prejudices, such as those related to their effectiveness. Indeed, telehealth services offer quicker access to health services than traditional in-person appointments, while they can be of greater convenience as they are generally available round the clock – without the need for consumers to leave their home to access them.
Not only are more consumers turning to remote or video GP consultation services, but a greater proportion of policyholders state that the possibility of accessing them is a product feature they sought when taking out their policy. As per the aforementioned survey, 29.1% of consumers cited that having access to remote or video GP consultations was among the policy features they sought, up by more than 10 percentage points since 2019 (18.4%).
As patients become more used to using digital services over time, the use of telehealth services will likely become more prominent for selected areas of care, such as for minor ailments and routine appointments. Given the rapid increase in adoption so far and the promising outlook for telehealth services, insurers are working on broadening their range of digital services offered. They are expanding from providing solely medical advice and diagnoses as a core of their telehealth service provisions to incorporating other services such as physiotherapy sessions and mental health counselling.