Telemedicine on phone Who uses itand how they want it to serve them varies by age, with millennialsseeking mental health care and older people using it for chronichealth issues. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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Telehealth is growing, with the majority of consumers amenableto using it. A key holdup? Even among those who do useit, a sizable percentage aren't sure that their healthcoverage will pay for it.

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According to the Telehealth Index: 2019 ConsumerSurvey from American Well, 66 percent of consumers arewilling to dive into the world of telehealth, and 8 percent havealready "seen" a doctor that way. They like that it's fast,convenient, and cheaper than an in-person visit—but 17 percent ofthose willing to give it a shot aren't sure it's covered by theirprovider.

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Related: 6 tips for changing the telemedicineconversation

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Who uses it and how they want it to serve them varies by age,with millennials seeking mental health care and older people usingit for chronic health issues and prescription renewals—although 88percent of those 65 and older wouldn't switch their primary careprovider to get a PCP who uses it. Those in the middle see it as asupplier of urgent care.

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Consumers put off getting care for numerous reasons, the mostpredominant of which is that they "thought the problem would goaway." But second and third, in that order for the 70 percent ofpeople who have delayed getting health care are "takes too long tosee [the] doctor" and "cost." The report says that if people werebetter acquainted with telehealth's capabilities and availability,that could cut down on delayed care.

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Naturally enough, the young are the most likely to usetelehealth, with 54 percent of users being millennials. And amongtelehealth users, 70 percent have children. Among those who saidthey were willing to try telehealth, just 20 percent said they weregame to use it for a pediatrician for their kids—but it alsoreferred to a Nemours Children's Health System survey that found 98percent of parents who had used Nemours' telehealth program said itwas equal to or better than an in-person visit.

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Nearly half of telehealth users live in the South, which couldbe a way of getting around the difficulty of getting health care inrural settings, particularly for specialty care.

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The big obstacle to telehealth use appears to be ignorance ofthe service, with just 20 percent of respondents in another surveysaying they had even heard of it. And even though people now oftengo to urgent care centers rather than emergency rooms, they don'tthink of telehealth as a means of getting care in the middle of thenight; 52 percent of consumers overall said they'd go to theemergency room. Only 18 percent of consumers opted fortelehealth.

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Marlene Satter

Marlene Y. Satter has worked in and written about the financial industry for decades.