// . //  Health Innovation Journal Volume 5 //  Consumer Healthcare Survey 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped how consumers access healthcare services. Our latest Consumer Healthcare Survey suggests that healthcare companies will need to realign their strategies to meet evolving consumer expectations.

Received virtual care in the last two years, by age

Source: 2021 Consumer Healthcare Survey, Oliver Wyman

Patients with multiple chronic conditions, who often require more touchpoints with the delivery system, were especially drawn to using virtual care options during the past two years.

Received virtual care in the last two years, by chronic disease count

Source: 2021 Consumer Healthcare Survey, Oliver Wyman

Satisfaction was high among those who used virtual care, with most saying it was “much better” or “better” than in-person care. Medicare beneficiaries largely viewed it as being “about the same.”

Level of satisfaction with virtual care compared to in-person visits

Source: 2021 Consumer Healthcare Survey, Oliver Wyman

Although use of some virtual care options is returning to pre-pandemic levels, the offerings still present a significant opportunity to offer consumers different ways of accessing care. More than one-third of consumers in an ACA plan or who were commercially insured said they would opt for virtual care if it were more convenient than an in-person visit. And 25% of seniors said they would prefer virtual care based on convenience.

As providers, payers, and other stakeholders continue to market these services, they need to account for some barriers to growth, particularly in helping consumers understand insurance coverage, cost, and how to use the technology.

Challenges utilizing virtual care

Source: 2021 Consumer Healthcare Survey, Oliver Wyman

Virtual care still has a long way to go before becoming the preferred method of accessing care. Half of survey respondents said that they prefer in-person care over virtual. Still, consumers are becoming more comfortable with the technology and see it as a viable option for interacting with their provider — 32% said they prefer in-person but will try virtual if it is easier and 49% said the care was better than what they received during a traditional office visit, up from 35% in the 2018 Consumer Healthcare Survey.

While the percentage of those patients seeking and getting care was high across all ages, younger patients were more likely to report barriers to care, suggesting they have a different set of expectations.

Mental Health Access Funnel (% of previous step)

Source: 2021 Consumer Healthcare Survey, Oliver Wyman

Perhaps not surprisingly, younger adults were more likely to either download an app or program, or conduct a virtual visit compared to older cohorts.

Virtual Mental Health (of all consumers)

Source: 2021 Consumer Healthcare Survey, Oliver Wyman

The most common hurdles sited for accessing care were availability of appointments (41% of all consumers) and couldn’t find someone who was in-network (39%). The increased need for mental health services will not dissipate anytime soon. As the consumer survey suggests, healthcare providers will need segmented approaches for getting services to different age demographics.

As the figures below indicate, consumers with high engagement scores are more active at almost every level of their engagement with the healthcare system. They seek out information about their health and are more active in accessing care. They rely heavily on their doctor and are significantly more inclined to rely on additional sources for information — pharmacists, support groups, social media, and medical journals.

Where consumers go for health information and research

Source: 2021 Consumer Healthcare Survey, Oliver Wyman

Similarly, they are more likely to shop for insurance coverage than their less engaged counterparts. The index also correlates to how consumers think about their health coverage. Among those who ranked as highly engaged, 73% said they investigated new coverage options and either switched or stayed with their existing plan, compared to 27% who let their coverage automatically renew without considering other options. By contrast, auto renewal is nearly twice as common among unengaged consumers, with 51% at the low end of the index choosing to roll over coverage from year-to-year.

How consumers renew their health coverage

Source: 2021 Consumer Healthcare Survey, Oliver Wyman

Importantly, more engaged consumers seem to be the first to line up to test industry innovations and are willing to try different front doors to the delivery system, whether it was virtual care or home visits.

Use of New Access Points

Source: 2021 Consumer Healthcare Survey, Oliver Wyman

The data also suggests that stakeholders need to be mindful how they roll out or expand an offering. Looking at the example of mental health services in the chart below, engaged consumers were more likely than their counterparts to report challenges in accessing care, suggesting they not only have different expectations when it comes to convenience, but might also be more critical of how solutions like virtual care are being deployed.

Varying Expectations

Source: 2021 Consumer Healthcare Survey, Oliver Wyman

All of this leads to some interesting questions about which consumers organizations should target, design for, and plan around. Activating unengaged consumers will require a more intensive set of outreach strategies, and perhaps a different set of solutions. If the goal is to increase market share or member stickiness, organizations need to be ready to meet the expectations of their most discerning customers. Regardless of the organizational goal, healthcare organizations — whether incumbents or new entrants — need to look beyond mere demographics or clinical segmentation and start to examine consumer engagement behaviors to ensure success of their strategies.