Are consumers already living the future of health?
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the healthcare system upside down and challenged consumers’ sense of well-being. In many ways, consumers are taking charge of their health more than ever before. They are learning about their health risks, communicating with their doctors in new and different ways, and changing their attitudes about data privacy. Each of these factors has a significant influence on how consumers are feeling and interacting with the health system. Going forward, how will these events and factors change consumer behavior? Are we more or less likely to see empowered healthcare consumers?
We gained an understanding of current US consumer behaviors and attitudes through the 2020 Deloitte Center for Health Solutions’ biennial survey. Since 2008, Deloitte has been conducting this survey to explore and collect longitudinal data on the subject, and this year we rolled it out just before the pandemic started. We also collected insights from a consumer survey during the pandemic (in April and early May 2020) – The Health Care Consumer Response to COVID-19 Survey.
Findings show that:
- Many consumers show agency and engagement: Consumers are increasingly willing to tell their doctors when they disagree with them, are using tools to get information on costs and health issues, are tracking their health conditions, and using that data to make decisions.
- Consumers are using virtual visits more than ever before and plan to continue using them: Consumers using virtual visits rose from 15% to 19% from 2019 to early 2020; this jumped to 28% in April 2020. On average, 80% are likely to have another virtual visit, even post COVID-19. Most consumers are satisfied with their visits and say they will use this type of care again.
- More consumers are using technology for health monitoring and are willing to share their data: A growing number of consumers are using technology to monitor their health, measure fitness, and order prescription-drug refills. After a slight decline in willingness to share data before COVID-19, new data shows that consumers are more comfortable sharing data during a crisis.
- A trusted clinician relationship remains paramount: The top factors for “an ideal healthcare experience” in the Deloitte 2020 Survey of US Health Care Consumers mirrored the findings of a similar study in 2016: doctors who listen to/care about them, doctors who don’t rush, and clear communication. As health systems, technology companies, and others roll out virtual services, it is imperative to provide the same personal experience as during an in-person visit.
The pandemic has accelerated consumer activation in some respects and slowed it down in others. On the one hand, patients are increasing virtual visits, interactions with health technology, and are more willing to share data. On the other hand, people are reporting increased levels of anxiety, financial and economic worries, and hesitation to go outside and get back to “everyday life” for fear of getting the virus or passing it along to others.
During this time of great uncertainty for consumers, healthcare organizations should recommit themselves to understanding consumers and creating a multifaceted strategy that speaks to where consumers are right now.
Implications for healthcare organizations
The healthcare consumer of the future is arriving faster than anticipated, fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Every person’s health journey and experience of the pandemic has been different. Yet, it is fair to say that this period has been and continues to be challenging for everyone. Even though healthcare organizations themselves have faced challenges, they should recommit themselves to understanding consumers and creating a multifaceted strategy that speaks to where consumers are right now. Healthcare organizations should tune their services to:
Deploy new tools and services. With healthcare consumers now more willing to adopt tools and share data and adopt virtual visits, new digital tools can play an important role in the future of care
Explore ways in which to benefit consumers through data interoperability. While consumers are more willing to share their data, organizations should ensure that the data serves consumer needs—through adequate interoperability.
Invest in virtual health technology and training clinicians in its use. Investing in virtual health technology and facilities can also benefit both consumers and organizations. Improving telehealth capabilities and designing a process whereby consumers can access their own physicians instead of third-party services could help healthcare organizations streamline and maximize the benefits of virtual health.
Create more access points to help improve drivers of health. Social determinants of health are an important factor in improving overall well-being, though they might also be among the most difficult problems to address. However, there is opportunity for healthcare organizations to address the disparities that exacerbate these issues.
Earn consumer trust through empathy and reliability. Although more consumers are sharing data because of the virus, as the public health crisis calms down, they might not be as willing to share it. Organizations need strategies to build trust to make consumers feel comfortable sharing their personal health data.