This study aimed to evaluate the patients’ perceptions and satisfaction regarding teleconsultations during the COVID-19 pandemic in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Factors that could influence patient satisfaction with the service were also considered. To our knowledge, this is the first study to assess patient satisfaction regarding teleconsultation in Saudi Arabia during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The demographic data indicated that the majority of the participants in this study were women between the ages of 30 and 59 with a college degree. It is worth mentioning that the results of this study showed that 70% of the study population used teleconsultation only once. This could be explained, to some extent, by the reported outcomes from their calls. The outcomes of the majority of the teleconsultation services result in either the patients’ reassurance or medication prescription to them. However, more studies are needed to explore this area in-depth.
Although several studies[16, 17] have indicated that these characteristics generally correlate with lower patient satisfaction, we found that patient satisfaction with the teleconsultation services was high across all domains tested. In over 70% of the cases, the participants felt that the doctor provided them with an appropriate management plan, that they understood their condition better, and that they were able to receive and convey information over the phone.
Similarly, in terms of satisfaction with the experience, > 80% of the participants were satisfied with the fact that they did not need a physical meeting with the doctor. As first reported by Newbould et al., patient dissatisfaction with teleconsultation seems to increase when the patient still needs to have a physical visit despite the teleconsultation. Hence, it can be argued that the high rates of satisfaction, in this case, were obtained in part because the vast majority of the participants did not need to visit the doctor’s office following the teleconsultation.
Several demographic variables appeared to impact satisfaction levels. In some cases, these elements were found to concur with previous reports.[16, 17, 18] Such aspects include older individuals and their likelihood of being satisfied with the service. Newbould et al. stated that younger people are quicker to find solutions to their medical issues and therefore tend to be more dissatisfied with the services provided than older individuals. Similarly, the outcome of the service was also found to influence patient satisfaction regardless of the nature of the outcome. Some divergent aspects were also noted. Contrary to previous findings, [18, 19, 20] this study found that patients with lower levels of education tended to be more dissatisfied with the service.
Finally, contrary to other reports, sex was not found to influence levels of satisfaction.
Hence, by corroborating the results obtained by this study with similar studies, it appears that patient satisfaction with teleconsultation services is largely dictated by the reasons for which the service is requested, the outcomes of the consultation, and by specific patient characteristics.
Despite experiencing higher levels of dissatisfaction after using the service more than once, participants in this study were also more likely to use the service again if they had used it before. The interpretation of these results could be limited by the circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Repeated use of the service might occur for these patients, if they lack other alternatives. Those with higher educational levels were also more likely to use the service and experienced greater satisfaction with the service, contrary to other findings. Finally, the reasons for use and the outcomes of the service also had a significant impact on the likelihood of reuse.
The reasons for service dissatisfaction identified by this study have also been reported elsewhere. Over 70% of participants were dissatisfied with the long waiting time for a consultation, and 9% were unhappy because, despite the consultation, they had to attend a physical appointment. Only 3% had experienced a technical difficulty, which might indicate that the quality of the service could be influenced by the infrastructure available to carry out the teleconsultation.
Despite showing an overall high satisfaction rate with the teleconsultation service, these results must be considered with caution. First, the patient sample presents various homogenous characteristics, especially in terms of sex and education. These aspects limit the generalizability of the study across Saudi Arabia. It is therefore recommended that future studies include more diverse participant samples when assessing patient satisfaction with teleconsultations. Response bias is another limitation that can affect the outcome. Furthermore, the results of this study cannot be generalized to all medical subspecialties. The applicability of teleconsultation in various subspecialties must be assessed individually. Also, assessing the physicians’ perceptions toward teleconsultation was beyond the scope of this study. It is worth mentioning that the adoption of telemedicine by health professionals is limited in Saudi Arabia despite the efforts and support provided by the Saudi MOH.[2, 6, 22] A recent systemic review highlighted the factors that influenced the adoption of telemedicine in Saudi Arabia, which included a lack of healthcare provider knowledge and limited publications in support of such services. Thus, it is crucial to increase the knowledge of healthcare providers about teleconsultation services and to incorporate this topic in all training programs and university medical curricula.