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Avtex surveyed 1000 people in an effort to better understand the average patient's viewpoint regarding the healthcare industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. The results of our survey revealed a number of interesting insights that healthcare providers should consider when planning strategies to reactivate patient relationships.

For readability and clarity, we've broken our findings down into a series of blog posts:

1. Why Patients are Avoiding Healthcare, and What They Need to Return
2. The Impact of Age on Patient Sentiment in Healthcare
3. Engage Patients with a Multi-Channel Healthcare Experience
4. Safety Practices, Messages and Communication Tactics for Healthcare Providers

The healthcare journey patients experience is emotionally driven and has been exacerbated by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Patients still have a high level of trust in their providers, but as they strive for reassurance, many are demanding more communication and support. With increased need for education and confirmation about healthcare safety measures, patients are now making different health decisions than in years past. In short, what was once managed as a single patient journey has now evolved into multiple, more complex, patient journeys.

Despite its extensive impact, COVID-19 is not the sole cause of these changes. In fact, it is likely more accurate to say the pandemic simply expedited an evolution of the healthcare experience that was already underway, thanks to the introduction of telehealth and shifting consumer mindsets. As John Halamka, President Mayo Clinic Platform, recently said, “the pandemic has accelerated healthcare innovation by 10 years.” As an example, 26% of patients we surveyed had used telehealth prior to COVID-19, but from March to July, that number increased by 58%. While the COVID-19 pandemic certainly accelerated the adoption of telehealth, it is critical for providers to understand that interest in virtual care options was already growing.

Different Patient Groups Want Different Health Experiences

Examining the demographic data we discussed in our blog, The Impact of Age on Patient Sentiment in Healthcare, patients described different needs and ideals when it comes to their health care experience. This diversity has helped illuminate a growing need for a more personalized health care journey. To put it a different way, health care is evolving to look more like the digital shopping experience we see within consumer goods, no longer conforming to the one-option choice that was available in previous years. Now, health care is a personal shopping experience similar to what consumers experience on Amazon, complete with individually tailored recommendations, readily available customer reviews and the ability to evaluate many different providers. The consumer-driven healthcare model we’ve talked about for years is finally arriving. Patients have a choice and they will choose to seek care where the outcomes are superior, cost is affordable and the experience is seamless.

Telehealth is Primed for Significant Growth

The term telehealth refers to all types of virtual visits (telephone, video, etc.). The benefits of telehealth, both for patients and providers, were emerging long before COVID-19 impacted the willingness of patients to seek in-person care. Lower costs and higher satisfaction for patients, along with expanded reach and reduced overhead for providers, created a desire to adopt telehealth options. Reduced regulatory requirements and full reimbursement from payers during the pandemic has created an environment primed for significant growth.

Within our data, the desire for telehealth appointments varied by age group, with younger patients generally being much more willing to engage in digital health care.

  • While 66% of patients age 35-54 and 60% of patients under 35 preferred telehealth to in-person appointments, that preference dropped significantly to only 34% of patients over 55.
  • Most patients under 55 responded they would like to use video or phone telehealth appointments as much as possible, and 32% of patients age 35-54 responded they would choose telehealth if it were available.
  • Patients over 55 responded differently. 40% of Baby Boomers were indifferent on the idea of telehealth, and 26% indicated they would not use telehealth at all, even if it were available.

Experience with Technology Influences Telehealth Concerns

Throughout our survey, we found the level of experience and fluency each age group had with technology correlated to their level of concern with telehealth. This explains why older patients may be less likely to use telehealth options. While younger patients have grown up in a digital world, older patients are accustomed to traditional care, and voiced an appreciation or need for human contact with their provider. Additionally, our study found that patients age 55+ are more concerned than younger patients about having access to the technology necessary to support telehealth options, or their own proficiency with that technology.

Conversely, patients age 18-34, were much less concerned about access to technology or their own proficiency but were more concerned about the quality of the technology itself. With higher standards for technology and less patience for technical issues, younger patients were most concerned about connection problems and the inability to see or hear their provider consistently during virtual appointments. However, despite different levels of technological fluency, the single biggest concern with telehealth across all surveyed groups was getting a correct assessment or diagnosis, and 74% of the patients surveyed expressed moderate or high levels of concern about the ability of providers to accurately assess and diagnose problems via telehealth. Interestingly, this concern is shared by providers.

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