Telehealth has been widely touted as a practice that will outlast COVID-19. But as the world enters year three of the pandemic, a new survey shows the appetite for hybrid care is on the decline among certain physician specialists.

A third of HCPs surveyed said they were using telehealth less due to their preference for in-person visits, and nearly 60% said they planned to reduce their use of the medium in the next six months. Only about 10% said they were solely using telehealth.

“The biggest insight we’ve learned is that hybrid is not necessarily the norm for patient interactions as we thought it would be,” said Sandra Parrelli, VP of media research and strategic insights for SSCG Media Group, which conducted the survey. “It was up at the onset of COVID-19, but now it seems like HCPs are more motivated to get back in the office and to start meeting with their patients in-person more.”

The researchers took the pulse of a range of specialists, from cardiologist and dermatologist to primary care doctors and psychiatrists – some 3,000 HCPs across 20 different specialties. 

Since 2020 when SSCG last queried HCPs on their media habits, use of telehealth has soared, and the assumption has been that it – or some hybrid version of it – would be the new norm. The latest survey counters that notion. 

Parrelli noted that telehealth preference was very specialty-driven. Psychiatrists, for example, were the most likely to want to continue conducting telehealth visits moving forward.

While telemedicine may not be the end-all for some specialties, hybrid learning and virtual meetings with sales reps have remained a common practice. Respondents noted that hybrid learning gave them more opportunities to engage with reps during their lunch breaks or other convenient times during the day.

“What we did see remain consistent was that hybrid learning, and meeting with virtual reps, is something HCPs want to continue doing,” Parrelli said. “HCPs felt it provided them with more opportunities for learning.”

Another takeaway is that omnichannel marketing should be tailored to accommodate crammed physician schedules.

“Physicians are very specific in the resources they’re using or the channels they’re using. It’s important to set up the best time of day and best time of week,” Parrelli noted.

The researchers found, for instance, that search engines, electronic health records and drug reference tools were seen as daily essentials, and most commonly accessed during workdays between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Online journals and portal sites, meanwhile, tended to be used weekly – and most commonly on Monday. Other on-demand resources like webinars or podcasts, as well as social networking sites, are mostly accessed in the evenings.

Another takeaway was that respondents’ media consumption has shifted to connected TV and social media. “More HCPs are interested in things like podcasts and videos as a way to gain knowledge from pharma companies,” Parrelli said.

Social media has stayed high on that list as well. In 2020, the pandemic spurred a big increase in use of mainstream platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, along with physician-specific ones such as Doximity. This year’s survey found that not only were HCPs using these sites more often, but they were also changing how they were using them.

“Previously, physicians were just going on social media for breaking news,” Parrelli explained. “Now, there are more apps to talk about patient cases and to solicit peer input. They’re using social media in a more dynamic way, and integrating it into their day-to-day routines.”

Such findings have obvious implications for organizations creating messaging for HCPs.

“It’s important to pay attention to the details and the nuances, and understand how things can vary based on specialty,” Parrelli said. “Telehealth is the best example of how even though the broad group of physicians are less likely to participate in it going forward, other specialties may still prefer it. Paying attention to where things are different is where you can make really effective campaigns.”