M. Murphy , W. Hills 

Coastal Carolina University (UNITED STATES)
Societal needs produced by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have led to significant changes in healthcare, including the rapid development and implementation of tele-care options for consumers. Widespread changes in regulations and guidelines for practice have allowed service providers to employ information communication devices, such as computers and smart phones, to offer virtual physical and mental health services across a broad range of settings. The aim of the current study was to examine video-based, virtual healthcare access and utilization before and during the pandemic. An online survey was sent to three participant groups associated with a university in South Carolina, including college-aged students, adults, and retirement-aged persons to measure use of physical and mental health services, the types of professionals involved in service provision, consumer satisfaction with type of services accessed, and anticipated use of virtual healthcare following the pandemic. A total of 685 participants provided usable data for this study.

Approximately half of both women (52.3%) and men (45.2%) had used virtual healthcare at the time of this study, in May 2021, and a majority of those were during the pandemic (89.7%). Both women (85.3%) and men (89.8%) used virtual healthcare primarily for physical health services, but women (30.2%) used it for mental health services more often than men (15.3%). Both women (59.7%) and men (63.3%) primarily used laptop computers for access. There were no gender differences in satisfaction with virtual healthcare (Mdn = 5). Both women (94.0%) and men (96.8%) strongly predicted that virtual healthcare would be available after the pandemic, but only two-thirds of women (62.9%) and men (59.8%) anticipated they would use virtual healthcare in the future. For women, both past use (p < .001) and higher satisfaction (p < .001) with past virtual healthcare predicted anticipated future use; but for men, past use was a positive predictor (p = .007), but past satisfaction was not (p = .118).

This study demonstrates widespread interest in virtual healthcare delivery, with services expected to continue to be available following the pandemic. The differential use of physical and mental health services by men and women highlights the importance of improving mental health education, particularly for men, and reducing the stigma associated with accessing mental health services overall. In addition, the study further illustrates the need to better understand virtual service development and implementation to maximize efficiency of healthcare systems and address spiraling healthcare costs.