Virtual doctor visits earn mostly positive reviews from patients

A nurse speaks to a patient during a virtual visit.

One of the many technological adaptations during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic was a shift to telehealth – virtual doctor appointments conducted over a computer or phone. According to one report, telehealth visits increased more than 8,000% in the first few months of the national shutdown, and they remained elevated even after doctor’s offices and hospitals returned to normal activity.

But do patients get what they need from these virtual experiences? To answer this question, a team of researchers from the UIC College of Business Administration, led by Ranganathan Chandrasekaran, scraped more than 5,000 reviews from the medical booking site Zocdoc. They then used data science techniques to analyze the text of those reviews for sentiment and common themes of praise or complaints.

Overall, the feedback on video visits was favorable: Almost 90% of the reviews reflected positive sentiment. And the objections to the online format appeared to decrease over the time period that the researchers examined, which ran from April 2020 to March 2022. 

Patient reviews most often mentioned communication and medical expertise as important factors for how they judged their virtual visit.

“Patients favored those physicians who listened to their concerns, answered questions and provided clear and easily understandable information,” the authors wrote. They propose a new concept of “webside manner,” behaviors that medical providers should follow to “make patients comfortable in virtual settings.”

On the negative side, patients pointed out issues with long wait times, technical issues and difficulty with follow-up information and appointments. The authors also said they could not use the current dataset to test whether patients preferred video visits to the in-person variety.

The research article is published in the open-source Cell Press journal Heliyon. Additional UIC co-authors were Prathamesh Bapat and Pruthivinath Jeripity Venkata. 

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