The coronavirus pandemic continues to shape patient access to care, with the latest data showing that 72 percent of patients have changed their care utilization habits, according to the Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP) and the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacists (AMCP).
The survey of just over 1,200 adult patients, conducted by Leede Research on behalf of ACHP, showed that 41 percent of patients have delayed access to healthcare services. While some of this may be credited to healthcare organizations that had to shutter their doors to non-urgent healthcare, the data indicate that much of the issue surrounds perceived patient trust and safety in healthcare institutions.
Forty-two percent of respondents said they felt uncomfortable going into a hospital for medical treatment, while 45 percent said they did not feel comfortable going into an urgent care or walk-in clinic.
And this trend is set to continue. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said they planned to postpone future healthcare treatment and services.
However, there is one thing that might get patients into the clinic: a COVID-19 screening. Sixty-four percent of patients said they would be interested in getting a test for the novel coronavirus, and 69 percent said they believe their medical provider office is the best place for that to happen.
But paradoxically, patients think the likelihood of obtaining one of those tests is low. Thirty-six percent of patients said they are concerned about getting their hands on a COVID-19 test or treatment.
“The pandemic has put consumers in a health care tailspin: They want to be tested for COVID-19, and for that, they rank their doctor’s office as the place they would feel most comfortable. However, for all other health care services and treatment, consumers want to delay visiting health care facilities altogether,” Ceci Connolly, ACHP president and CEO, said in a statement.
Some respondents indicated they were avoiding care access in an attempt to reduce COVID-19 spread, hoping they could circumvent contracting the virus and ensure they do not spread it to others.
Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they or someone at home has a chronic illness, making them more susceptible to the virus. These individuals were 60 percent more likely to say they had delayed healthcare, the survey showed.
However, there may be some solutions to charge forward. Nearly all of the respondents said that using a care management smartphone app was useful, and many suggested they would access healthcare virtually via telehealth.
“As a result, we see a health care industry, already stretched due to coronavirus itself, struggling to provide care and coverage,” Connolly said. “The successful consumer adoption of telehealth services provides one bright light for the industry today.”
What’s more, patients are feeling comfortable visiting other types of medical providers, namely pharmacists.
Forty-nine percent said they feel “very comfortable” picking up a prescription from their pharmacists. In fact, of the 47 percent of respondents who received a new prescription in the past 90 days, 90 percent said they picked it up in person from a retail pharmacy.
This opens the door for pharmacists to drive patient engagement and health coaching, even as traditional healthcare utilization drops.
“This survey highlights the crucial role pharmacists play in today’s health care system,” said Susan A. Cantrell, RPh, CAE, AMCP CEO.
“Consumers’ confidence in pharmacists is impressive with significant percentages filling their prescriptions at a retail pharmacy over the past three months and stating they would feel comfortable getting tested for COVID-19 at a pharmacy,” she added. “Such testing expands the role pharmacists have played during this pandemic. This consumer confidence presents an enormous opportunity for pharmacists to support a strained health care system because the same consumers are delaying visits with other health care providers due to safety concerns.”
The promise for pharmacist-led patient engagement notwithstanding, a challenging road still lies ahead. Just about three-quarters of respondents think there is likely to be a COVID-19 resurgence in the fall, leading many to question when they should reschedule some of their elective, non-urgent care.
Thirty-eight percent said they may rethink scheduling elective procedures for the next six months, while 27 percent would delay in-person diagnostic testing for the next six months.
Meanwhile, patients are experiencing financial concerns. COVID-19 has sparked mass unemployment, pushing 21 percent of respondents currently with insurance to fear for their coverage over the next six months.
The medical industry is beginning to chip away at this problem, reopening their doors to some non-urgent cases and working to ramp up chronic disease management. These organizations must work to communicate their safety protocol with patients, assuaging patient fears and making patients feel comfortable visiting the office.