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How Are Healthcare Consumers Responding to COVID/the Coronavirus Pandemic?

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer
multiracial graphic of people with face masks

COVID: The New Normal for Healthcare Consumers

A “new normal” is emerging in healthcare for both providers and patients. Healthcare industry leaders and medical marketing professionals constantly struggle to keep pace with changes. We all have the challenge of adjusting to pandemic demands and shifting consumer attitudes. Some questions are emerging:

  • What do healthcare patients want and expect in a post-pandemic world?
  • How best to address new and future consumer fears and desires?
  • Why “COVID-speed” has become the new normal in healthcare marketing.
  • How to leverage a new and more efficient role for telemedicine, outpatient clinics, urgent care, and other healthcare delivery options.

To that end, I recently led a webinar with our friend and marketing research partner Rob Klein, CEO, Klein & Partners. Rob delivered insightful data from his Wave II Omnibus Study, which captures shifting attitudes among American healthcare consumers. If you have time, you really should invest the time to watch the full webinar and download the data slides.

However, since we recognize that many of our readers require an abridged version, I am sharing the essential points here.

Time Has Become the “New Currency” in Healthcare

One of the most dramatic indicators is how people seek care now. The increase in COVID virtual healthcare visits is more than double Rob’s previous Wave I survey.

  • Rob Klein advises that “time is the new currency. If you don’t have a virtual care strategy, you are behind the 8-ball as a provider.” What’s more, hospitals and health systems have recently proved they can innovate quickly.
  • Further, American consumers now expect providers to be proactive and to adapt quickly to market changes and consumer needs.
  • How do we get patients back after a cancellation due to COVID-19? Data reveals that a large percentage of patients changed to a virtual visit. “No matter how we asked the question about receiving care,” Klein notes, “virtual visits pops to the surface. It is truly our number one opportunity to get patients back for care.
  • “Virtual service eases the strain for those who need to be seen in person. The ability to see those patients sooner is especially helpful to people who couldn’t or wouldn’t leave home.”
  • Surprisingly, the two top reasons that would make patients change providers are “attitude” and “access.” Survey responses were “Another provider can get me in faster than my current provider,” and “My current provider has been difficult to work with to get me rescheduled.” Once again, time is the new currency according to Klein. Responding to these concerns is an open opportunity to retain patients and/or to capture new patients proactively.
  • What can be done to ease access to healthcare? According to the survey, the top opportunity is to provide virtual visits in place of in-person appointments, when medically appropriate. This is especially helpful for women and individuals working at home. Further, expand the weekday schedule with early morning and evening hours.
  • Now, more than ever, cost concerns and financial help in healthcare are vital. Unemployment has been astronomical, and normal income, for many, has disappeared. Consumers would welcome provider options to ease their cost concerns, as are offered in other industries. For healthcare, consumers would like to see lowering or eliminating co-pay, waiving deductible, working with insurance companies to reduce out-of-pocket costs, and other options.

Key Take-away and Action Items

Coronavirus is unlike nearly any experience that we have known in our lifetime. And for providers and patients, it is permanently changing healthcare systems to a “new normal.” The Wave II Omnibus Study, presented by Rob Klein, delivers valuable guidance for industry leaders and marketing professionals about consumer perceptions and behaviors — now and in the future.

  • After many weeks of living this experience, some consumers’ negative emotions — loneliness, anger, fear, and anxiety — are beginning to abate. However, these perceptions are still higher among women and people age 18 to 44.
  • Consequently, this is an excellent opportunity to build on the goodwill that you have instilled in consumers and patients to grow your marketplace brand.
  • Significantly, this experience has proven to everyone that we can innovate quickly (i.e., remove bureaucracy). Now, consumers expect us to continue innovating. In other words, our “new normal” means we can’t go back to our old ways.
  • One of the most significant healthcare changes in a post-pandemic world is having and using robust virtual care options, whenever appropriate.
  • Further, this is an opportunity to change behavior and expectations regarding where patients seek care — e.g., inpatient to outpatient procedures and the availability of a Nurse Practitioner and/or Physician Assistant, especially for patients under age 45.
  • For healthcare providers, organizations, and marketing executives, multi-method communications are required. In other words, one size does not fit all, and a comprehensive plan is needed to connect with consumers and patients.

As we begin to emerge from the worldwide Coronavirus experience, our perceptions and behaviors have changed, and healthcare needs to shape a “new normal” for health providers and patients.

As we alluded to earlier, Rob and I share more ideas in the full on-demand webinar replay. You can access both the webinar and data slides.

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