By Jim Durkin
The pandemic has led to more healthcare problems beyond those directly linked to the COVID-19 virus. Fear of getting sick, closed medical facilities, and redirected resources caused people to delay everything from teeth cleanings to nearly 10 million cancer screenings, according to a study published in JAMA Oncology. Providers need to be doing all they can to encourage people to reengage with healthcare systems to mitigate the repercussions of delaying healthcare appointments.
In a nationwide study conducted by The Martec Group, many consumers reported feeling insecure about reengaging with U.S. healthcare systems. Concerns identified include misgivings about both in-person and telehealth care. The findings also draw a road map for healthcare providers looking to regain consumer trust and optimize capacity levels. As COVID-19 cases decline and the percentage of people vaccinated increases, healthcare providers need to recapture the confidence consumers had before the pandemic.
Meet the healthcare system reengagers
Apprehensive reengagers: 22% of those surveyed, ages 35–54, highly health literate, express the highest level of negative emotions (“discomfort” and “dread”) about reengaging with healthcare providers in a hospital or an office setting. This group also has reported the greatest negative change in their mental health. They are skeptical about the accuracy of remote visits versus in-person care. This group will need the most guidance. Emphasizing how far virtual medicine has come will be important, along with showing success stories. Communication that physicians can seamlessly order lab tests, which patients can have collected at a nearby lab service, also will be critical. For in-person visits, providers should reinforce that safety and cleaning protocols are always followed and that incidence of COVID-19 exposure is very low.
Concerned reengagers: 31% of those surveyed, the oldest segment at ages 55 and up, living in both rural and suburban communities, are most uncomfortable with the technology required for telehealth and mourn the possibility of losing the personal connection they share with their trusted physicians. While this group has a high risk profile, they have the most negative emotions toward telehealth. This segment needs reassurance about the ease of using virtual technology, instructional guidance that is customized for those with visual or audio issues, and examples of older consumers using remote telehealth services successfully. Preparing FAQ documents will help this group.
Remote reengagers: 30% of those surveyed, the youngest group at ages 18–34, mostly living in urban and suburban areas, are most resistant to in-person doctor visits. They like the convenience and ease of remote visits but have some concerns about data security. Healthcare organizations and providers should underscore their system security and data privacy policies to encourage this group to participate in digital wellness platforms and home-based testing. Highlighting how advanced healthcare has become will boost their overall engagement levels.
Confident reengagers: 17% of those surveyed, ages 35–54, mostly urban dwellers, have the lowest level of concern about in-person and remote visits and the highest level of positive emotions. This segment will be the least challenging to reengage and is most capable of seeing the benefits for both in-person and telehealth services.
Key findings for healthcare providers
Four pivotal areas drive consumers’ emotions and decisions about reengaging with healthcare providers:
- Personal relationships: Feeling a strong connection to their physician
- Safety: Concerns exist for both in-person and telehealth care
- Trust: Perceived accuracy of diagnosis and treatment with telemedicine
- Convenience: No travel time
Providers should create more touch points to address all segments’ concerns about healthcare experiences:
- Use opportunities on websites, chatbots, social media, wellness blogs, and customer reviews to discuss successful stories of technology use in healthcare and demonstrate the well-being of patients returning to in-person visits
- Address all safety concerns using these platforms to help reduce fears regarding exposure
- Show video demonstrations of what a remote visit looks like and provide examples of what a patient may prepare ahead of time to make a virtual visit more productive and rewarding
Additionally, for remote healthcare, providers should:
- Review and support the customer journey
- Identify use cases for when virtual visits can provide a strong option over in-person visits
- Address consumers’ concerns about the privacy and security of their personal information
To build resilience, regain consumer trust, and optimize capacity levels, healthcare providers need to understand their community’s unique consumer segments and address each group accordingly.
Jim Durkin is a founding partner of The Martec Group and has more 35 years of global market research and consulting experience. His market analyses have covered the entire spectrum, including new product concept analyses, global market opportunity assessments, pricing analysis, market segmentation, product positioning and message testing, and post-launch ATU and satisfaction/loyalty tracking.