Most Americans prefer to receive their medical care in person, but are generally willing to continue using telehealth services that have grown more common during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Most consumers are less interested in using telehealth if the out-of-pocket cost is higher than for in-person care, suggesting the continued expansion of telehealth will be sensitive to financial issues.

The study, the first to report on the willingness of the general U.S. population to pay for telehealth in a post-pandemic world, is published by the journal JAMA Network Open.

“Patients may like telehealth in certain circumstances such as when they need care for minor health issues,” said Zachary S. Predmore, the study's lead author and an associate policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “But their willingness to use telehealth is very sensitive to costs. Patients may not perceive video visits to have the same value as in-person health care.”

The study found that people who preferred video visits were more sensitive to out-of-pocket costs than those who preferred in-person visits, as a $20 increase in cost was associated with more people switching from video visits to in-person care.

Use of telehealth has increased rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic as health care providers offer telephone or video visits to reduce the potential for virus spread. A previous RAND survey found that 40% of Americans with a chronic health condition had used telehealth by the spring of 2020.

It is unclear how telehealth may be used within the U.S. health system after the pandemic, with early evidence suggesting that telehealth is decreasing as providers and patients resume in-person care. Federal programs such as Medicare and private insurers are weighing whether and how to pay for routine telehealth in the future.

Read the full article about COVID-19 patients and telehealth at RAND Corporation.