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Original article

Vol. 153 No. 2 (2023)

Telehealth use by walk-in patients who subsequently visited an academic emergency department: a repeated cross-sectional study during the COVID-19 summer 2021

  • Annette C. Mettler
  • Eli R. Aebersold
  • Livio Piazza
  • Sandra Schmid
  • Janet Michel
  • Martin Müller
  • Aristomenis K. Exadaktylos
  • Thomas C. Sauter
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2023;153:40027


AIMS OF THE STUDY: During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth use increased worldwide in a variety of medical specialities and reached new population groups. A baseline survey of telehealth use prior to admission to the emergency department (ED) conducted before COVID-19 concluded that predominantly well-educated men used telehealth. It is unclear how COVID-19 changed the use of telehealth in Swiss emergency patients. We therefore aimed to investigate (i) the frequency of telehealth use during the pandemic, and (ii) how the pandemic has influenced telehealth use and users.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: A repeated cross-sectional study was conducted among ED walk-in patients at a tertiary university hospital in Switzerland. The study took place one and a half years after the first confirmed COVID-19 case, during 30 shifts from 8 to 29 July 2021 and compared with the baseline survey conducted in 2019. Eligible patients were questioned about their use of, and attitudes to telehealth.

RESULTS: A total of 1020 patients were screened for the COVID survey and 443 complete questionnaires were evaluated. A trend towards a general increase (+6.4%) in telehealth use was demonstrated (50.3%, n = 223 COVID survey vs 43.9%, n = 183 baseline survey; p = 0.058), with a shift to more female patients using telehealth in the COVID survey (female 54.9%, n = 124 vs 45.1%, n = 102; p = 0.052). During the pandemic, first use of telehealth was reported by 12.2% (n = 54) of patients, with a significant increase among patients with low educational status, and the latter patients often indicated that they did not plan to use telehealth after the pandemic. The perceived usefulness of telehealth and adherence to recommendations increased in the COVID survey compared with the baseline survey (adherence 90.3%, n = 149, vs 78.0%, n = 131; p = 0.002).

CONCLUSION: We found a trend towards increased use of telehealth among Swiss ED patients. First-time users of telehealth were predominantly less educated and inclusion of these user groups may not be sustainable, as was indicated by the patients. COVID-19 led to greater adherence to telehealth recommendations and higher perceived usefulness. This could be due to the limited access to healthcare providers due to pandemic precautions. When offering telehealth, the needs of all patient groups must be considered, in order to ensure that telehealth provides the greatest benefit with lower barriers to use.


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