More than six months after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, we’re beginning to have clarity about changes to consumer sentiment and behavior. As I review research from numerous organizations, two things are crystal-clear:
- Many patients have deferred healthcare, and nearly as many are hesitant to resume preventive and elective care.
Take childhood immunizations, for example. “A survey of more than 700 parents by Orlando Health found that although 84 percent believe vaccines are necessary to protect their children from a host of diseases, two-thirds fear taking their kids to their doctor because of COVID-19." Another survey released by the Alliance of Community Health Plans found respondents believe their doctor is the “most trusted source of information about the novel coronavirus, but only 31 percent feel ‘comfortable’ visiting their doctor’s office.”
- At the same time, patients are increasingly using technology to access healthcare, even seniors.
“Before the pandemic, 99+ percent of Medicare-funded visits were in-person appointments.” In April, 43.5 percent of Medicare primary care visits were via telehealth.
Physicians too are increasing their use of virtual visits, even specialists. In a recent survey of U.S. specialists, “79 percent said their use of telemedicine technology has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
More broadly, as McKinsey & Company reports, there has been, and will continue to be, a “flight to digital and omnichannel” for a whole host of services.
Overall, McKinsey research finds there will be a 15 – 35 percent growth in consumers who purchase online for most categories after COVID-19. Numbers vary significantly by category. Entertainment at home, for example, is expected to grow just nine percent post-COVID whereas over-the-counter medicine is anticipated to increase 46 to 70 percent.
The same McKinsey research found the use of telemedicine for physical health has grown more than 150 percent during the pandemic, and 50 percent of consumers intend to continue this practice after COVID-19. For mental health, the use of virtual visits has increased more than 130 percent, and 53 percent plan to continue using telemedicine. Topping 70 percent or more, the ‘intent to continue’ numbers are even higher for online fitness, wellness apps and digital exercise.
I, too, have used telehealth during the pandemic, and as a busy working mother, I plan to use it again. As I shared in a recent episode of the Geneia podcast, Getting Started with the Digital Front Door, my kids had their first virtual well-child visits with their physician. As a follow-up, their doctor arranged for drive-by immunizations, the only part of the annual visit we were unable to do virtually.
The bottom line –
There’s never been a better time for health plans, hospitals and physician practices to implement a digital front door strategy. Patients – and their physicians – have become more technologically-savvy and technologically-ready during the COVID-19 pandemic, and, as I wrote in the blog, Restarting regular care: Nine ways to get patients back to the office, many patients are going to need more personalized outreach, engagement and care to feel comfortable returning to regular, preventive healthcare.
Many industry experts feel the same way.
- As Rock Health recently wrote, “The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented demand and urgency around the shift to digital content, navigation and delivery of healthcare.”
- Summer Knight, MD, managing director, Deloitte Life Sciences & Healthcare Practice, said in a PatientEngagementHIT article, “The digital front door is going to create a longitudinal relationship built with trust between patient and provider, and inherently moves away from the old model of sick-care.”
Digital Front Door Resources
Some large national health plans and mature hospital organizations have already begun investing in a digital front door strategy and key components that build towards digital engagement at every touchpoint of the patient journey. Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, for example, is creating a much stronger consumer experience and trying to present that information so that patient is known and feels known at first call or first point of contact into the organization.
That said, as one who has worked in healthcare for more than 30 years, I know all too well that many healthcare organizations believe implementing a digital front door is a daunting endeavor, especially during a pandemic. That’s why Geneia has created a number of resources to help health plans, hospitals and physician practices, all of which can be downloaded for free from our digital front door content hub.
- Geneia White Paper: Why Health Plans Are Implementing a Digital Front Door Strategy
- Geneia White Paper: Why Hospitals and Health Systems Are Implementing a Digital Front Door Strategy
- Geneia Podcast: Getting Started with the Digital Front Door