Journal of Medical Internet Research (Jun 2021)

Patient Experience in Virtual Visits Hinges on Technology and the Patient-Clinician Relationship: A Large Survey Study With Open-ended Questions

  • Susannah Rose,
  • Heather McKee Hurwitz,
  • Mary Beth Mercer,
  • Sabahat Hizlan,
  • Kari Gali,
  • Pei-Chun Yu,
  • Caroline Franke,
  • Kathryn Martinez,
  • Matthew Stanton,
  • Matthew Faiman,
  • Peter Rasmussen,
  • Adrienne Boissy

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 23, no. 6
p. e18488


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BackgroundPatient satisfaction with in-person medical visits includes patient-clinician engagement. However, communication, empathy, and other relationship-centered care measures in virtual visits have not been adequately investigated. ObjectiveThis study aims to comprehensively consider patient experience, including relationship-centered care measures, to assess patient satisfaction during virtual visits. MethodsWe conducted a large survey study with open-ended questions to comprehensively assess patients’ experiences with virtual visits in a diverse patient population. Adults with a virtual visit between June 21, 2017, and July 12, 2017, were invited to complete a survey of 21 Likert-scale items and textboxes for comments following their visit. Factor analysis of the survey items revealed three factors: experience with technology, patient-clinician engagement, and overall satisfaction. Multivariable logistic regression was used to test the associations among the three factors and patient demographics, clinician type, and prior relationship with the clinician. Using qualitative framework analysis, we identified recurrent themes in survey comments, quantitatively coded comments, and computed descriptive statistics of the coded comments. ResultsA total of 65.7% (426/648) of the patients completed the survey; 64.1% (273/426) of the respondents were women, and the average age was 46 (range 18-86) years. The sample was geographically diverse: 70.2% (299/426) from Ohio, 6.8% (29/426) from Florida, 4.2% (18/426) from Pennsylvania, and 18.7% (80/426) from other states. With regard to insurance coverage, 57.5% (245/426) were undetermined, 23.7% (101/426) had the hospital’s employee health insurance, and 18.7% (80/426) had other private insurance. Types of virtual visits and clinicians varied. Overall, 58.4% (249/426) of patients had an on-demand visit, whereas 41.5% (177/426) had a scheduled visit. A total of 41.8% (178/426) of patients had a virtual visit with a family physician, 20.9% (89/426) with an advanced practice provider, and the rest had a visit with a specialist. Most patients (393/423, 92.9%) agreed that their virtual visit clinician was interested in them as a person, and their virtual visit made it easy to get the care they needed (383/421, 90.9%). A total of 81.9% (344/420) of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their virtual visit was as good as an in-person visit by a clinician. Having a prior relationship with their virtual visit clinician was associated with less comfort and ease with virtual technology among patients (odds ratio 0.58, 95% CI 0.35-0.98). In terms of technology, patients found the interface easy to use (392/423, 92.7%) and felt comfortable using it (401/423, 94.8%). Technical difficulties were associated with lower odds of overall satisfaction (odds ratio 0.46, 95% CI 0.28-0.76). ConclusionsPatient-clinician engagement in virtual visits was comparable with in-person visits. This study supports the value and acceptance of virtual visits. Evaluations of virtual visits should include assessments of technology and patient-clinician engagement, as both are likely to influence patient satisfaction.