Since September of 2020, we have been tracking consumers globally to better understand how the pandemic has impacted their lives, needs, and consumption patterns across industries. Our findings help summarize life and change during this difficult period, but also point toward a future that will look much different from the pre-COVID-19 world, with opportunities and new threats for the healthcare industry. The pandemic had the biggest impact on both digital care and consumer trust. Yes, we’re at a tipping point from a consumer lens, but only if consumers act on information they can trust and rely on. On that note, here are five findings from our research about consumer sentiment.
1. The (uniquely digital) disruption of healthcare spread like wildfire.
The pandemic’s far-reaching impact has affected almost every industry. Plans and purchasing decisions were canceled or deferred. Also, consumer habits changed – often quite drastically. Early in the pandemic, it became clear telehealth utilization was increasing drastically. Corollaries have been observed in many other industries, but our research indicates that healthcare is squarely at the front of the pack (see line two). Among consumers who modified their behavior in some way (like stopping, delaying, or changing providers, and so on), a greater percentage have migrated from bricks and mortar to digital providers in healthcare than in any of the other industries included in our research.
ACROSS INDUSTRIES, THE DISRUPTION EXPERIENCED BY THE HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY HAS BEEN MOST DIGITALLY-DRIVEN
2. Medicare has been at the forefront of change.
While our research in previous years indicated that younger consumers are much more likely to use virtual care, COVID-19 changed this. Given changes in Medicare reimbursement and provider-led pushes to virtual care modalities, the 65 and older population flocked to new digital solutions during the pandemic even more than younger consumers did.
DIGITAL DISRUPTION HAS BEEN RELATIVELY CONSTANT AMONG AGE SEGMENTS, WITH A SMALL BUMP AMONG THE MEDICARE POPULATION
3. Older consumers are the most likely to return to pre-COVID-19 habits, and will tend to not be as open to virtual options compared to other patient populations.
Despite increased Medicare utilization of digital solutions, we do see echoes of our past research findings which indicated lower openness to virtual care among older generations. Though older consumers consumed virtual care in record numbers, they are the least likely to continue these care patterns into the future. That being said, the difference is not as stark as we may have imagined based on past research. Fifty percent of telehealth users aged 65 to 74 cite a preference for returning to their old (non-digital) approach, versus 32% among those aged 25 to 34. In other words, a full half of the Medicare population who used virtual care during COVID-19 are open to continuing to do so post-COVID-19 – representing a major opportunity along the entire healthcare continuum from population health management to Medicare Advantage (MA) product design and marketing.
YOUNGER PEOPLE AND THOSE WITH LOWER TO MIDDLE INCOMES ARE MOST LIKELY TO CONTINUE NEW VIRTUAL ADOPTION PATTERNS
4. Overall, much of the virtual surge will continue after COVID-19.
In addition to studying behaviors during the pandemic, we asked consumers to project their behaviors and preferences a year into the future, providing an initial glimpse at consumption patterns in the post-COVID-19 world. Based on this, we project that nearly 40% of pandemic virtual surges will persist, with moderate variance across use cases (ranging from 26% for medical appointments to 59% for filling a prescription.) As the pandemic recedes, however, we anticipate a relatively short window of increased consumer malleability, during which the actions taken by healthcare players (how virtual care options are reimbursed, promoted, and integrated into the consumer’s broader healthcare experience) will ultimately determine the persistence of the surge.
ACROSS OCCASIONS, OUR RESEARCH PREDICTS ~40% OF THE COVID VIRTUAL SURGE WILL PERSIST WITH SIGNIFICANT VARIANCE ACROSS OCCASIONS
5. Consumers still don’t know where to turn for trusted advice.
As a byproduct of the pandemic, there has been a further proliferation of contradictory information confronting consumers every day, on questions as fundamental as the efficacy of wearing masks and the safety of vaccines. Increasingly politicized information has made consumers skeptical of sources once considered to be definitive sources of truth (48% distrust the federal government and 39% distrust mainstream media sources). Consumers are starved for reliable sources of information and our research indicates that now, more than ever, they are looking to the brands they identify with to provide relevant and unbiased advice and guidance, driving a heightened opportunity for healthcare companies to play an expanded role in this area.
WHO WILL SHAPE CONSUMER OPINION ON THE POST-COVID WORLD? RIGHT NOW, FAMILIAR BRANDS ARE SIGNIFICANTLY MORE TRUSTED THAN MANY OTHER INSTITUTIONS
It’s crucial to understand how different types of consumers are using, and have used, virtual care during the pandemic. And, how different kinds of consumers tend to interact with technology that meets their needs. This way, the industry can better “meet them where they are” and facilitate their continued and increased comfort with this modality.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks and months for more research and insights on today's healthcare consumers.