The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, and loneliness, and those three emotions are set to reshape the face of consumerism in healthcare, according to new Deloitte data sent to PatientEngagementHIT.
The report, which gleaned survey insights from over 1,500 adult patient respondents on both public and private insurance, paint the picture of a more engaged patient whose experiences during the coronavirus outbreak will reframe what they want and need from their medical providers.
“While the US health care system has been moving toward a more consumer-focused experience, progress has been slow,” Shane Giuliani and Urvi Shah, both senior managers for Deloitte Consulting, wrote in an accompanying blog post.
It’s been difficult for industry leaders to divorce themselves from long-held beliefs of what the healthcare system should look like, the pair explained. Regulatory barriers have also made it hard for medical professionals to delivery consumer-centered care.
“The pandemic, however, has caused regulators to remove some regulatory barriers, and some health care executives are beginning to rethink long-held beliefs,” Giuliani and Shah continued. “Those who don’t question these beliefs now, and in the months to come, could face a consumer-trust problem.”
Those effects are being seen in real-time, the survey revealed. Currently, more than three-quarters of patients are feeling adverse emotions as a result of the viral pandemic. Eighty-one percent of patients are feeling anxiety, 77 percent uncertainty, and 74 percent loneliness.
And consequently, these emotions are leading to care access barriers. Twenty-eight percent of respondent said they did not want to get a COVID-19 test because they don’t want to be exposed to the virus at the doctor’s office or testing site.
Another 28 percent of patients said they canceled their primary care visits, while 20 percent said their providers canceled on them. Nineteen percent of consumers canceled their specialty visits, and 7 percent canceled an elective procedure (8 percent reported their providers canceled on them, likely per CMS and industry guidance).
But consumers don’t expect to go without care for long, the survey added. More than 80 percent expect to see their visits rescheduled, meaning organizations need to adjust to consumer needs in the coming weeks and months in order to deliver a quality experience.
“In order to maintain or even re-earn the trust of consumers, health care organizations will likely need to demonstrate competence, reliability, transparency—and most importantly—a sense of empathy in how they conduct their operations moving forward,” Giuliani and Shah explained.
Telehealth, for example, is and will continue to play a big role. Seventeen percent of patients are already turning to telehealth to get their primary care visits done, the survey showed.
For all types of visits, the proportion of patients access telehealth has almost doubled since last year, from 15 percent using the technology in 2019 to 28 percent using it for any type of care now.
This trend is slated to continue moving forward, Deloitte predicted. While patients maintain the benefits of in-person care — 66 percent say a physical exam is better for understanding health needs and 56 percent aren’t sure telehealth is of the same value — 84 percent are so far satisfied with telehealth care.
Sixty percent are comfortable sharing their healthcare on a digital format, and 56 percent are confident in the security of a telehealth app.
Healthcare consumers are also increasingly willing to share their health data with their payers and providers, coming in a 71 and 73 percent, respectively. However, only 50 percent said they feel like they have the ability to do this.
“To enable a further sense of ownership of their health care experience, health organizations should abandon the belief that consumers should not own their own health care data, or that consumers would be unwilling to share their data with health care (or even non-health care) organizations,” Giuliani and Shah stated.
“A willingness to share data could create an opportunity to arm consumers with the information they need to become more proactive decision-makers about managing their health and well-being.”
On the same token, consumers are taking more accountability for their own health, with patient engagement levels soaring. Sixty-eight percent of patients are concerned about their own physical safety and health, likely due to the constant threat of the novel coronavirus.
Patients are also becoming more informed about their health. The survey showed nearly half (46 percent) of respondents have a better understanding of their health benefits now than before the pandemic.
“Once the pandemic dissipates, we expect consumers will continue to want this increased sense of understanding of (and control over) their health care experience,” Giuliani and Shah advised. “Health plans and health systems should increase their emphasis on providing transparent information as well as personalized recommendations that enable members and patients to make informed decisions and feel ownership in directing their health.”
And as more patients (three in four) report being able to recognize good, quality healthcare, they expect their medical providers to take the same considerations for health and safety.
Sixty-five percent of consumers said healthcare organizations need to increase their safety and cleaning protocol as they adapt to COVID-19. This includes having employees visibly wiping down surfaces, requiring masks and gloves for everyone, requiring temperature checks, offering senior or vulnerable patient hours, among other strategies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the consumer way of life, both inside the healthcare industry and outside. But despite the current grim environment, Giuliani and Shah see hope for a better future.
“Once they have experienced the start of a new normal, many consumers will likely not revert to their pre-COVID-19 preferences, making it critical for health care organizations to prepare for the future by acting now and doubling down their efforts to elevate the human experience of their members and patients, building trust and gaining long-term loyalty,” the pair concluded.