Affordability, Technology Use Key for Healthcare Consumerism

By Sara Heath

– Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare consumerism was tipping toward more personalized, affordable, and tech-enabled healthcare access, according to new survey data from CVS Health.

Fielded back in March, the Path for Better Health survey looked at responses from 1,000 adult patients about what they need from their healthcare. Responses aligned with previous work on healthcare consumerism: patients want to use technology to access healthcare. They want it to be simple, they want to be personalized to their needs, and they want it to be affordable.

For example, 48 percent of patients would be more likely to communicate with healthcare entities more frequently if they could do so using secure direct messaging, a statistic that’s up from 41 percent in a 2019 iteration of the survey.

Thirty-two percent said the same about telehealth, which is up from 19 percent last year, and 29 percent about asynchronous platforms like FaceTime or Skype, up from 20 percent in 2019.

Forty percent of consumers said they would be very likely to receive virtual healthcare for mental or behavioral health needs if it was available to them.

Although these responses were fielded back in March, before anyone quite understood the immense ripple effects the novel coronavirus would have on all walks of life, they resonate strongly now.

“The pandemic has forced countless Americans to rethink their approach to health and explore different avenues of care,” Larry Merlo, CEO of CVS Health, said in a statement. “Whether in the community, in the home or in the palm of their hand, people are discovering new ways to conveniently and affordably address their health care needs, including mental and behavioral health. We expect these changes will transform the way care is delivered moving forward.”

Providers may be poised to meet these demands for tech-enabled healthcare. Forty percent of clinician respondents said telehealth is very valuable for communicating with their patients, up from 22 percent in 2019.

Thirty-nine percent of providers said their practices already have artificial intelligence technology, which can personalize patient engagement technology, or have plans to implement the tools in the near future.

“Our growing local presence and expansion of virtual care, telemedicine, and other omnichannel programs will be critical to meeting the health needs of our members and customers, both during and after the pandemic,” Merlo noted.

On a similar note, patients reported an increased interest in alternative care sites, like urgent care clinics, non-emergency walk-in clinics, and retail health clinics. Sixty-two percent of consumers still prefer to go to their primary care providers for minor ailments, but a growing number are open to non-emergency walk-in clinics.

In 2020, 31 percent of patients said they’d visit a walk-in clinic, compared to only 29 percent in 2019. By and large, 92 percent of patients said all of healthcare should be convenient.

They also said healthcare should be affordable, but that isn’t quite happening.

Thirty-five percent of patient respondents said healthcare costs are a barrier to staying healthy. Just about half (49 percent) said they did not visit a doctor when they needed to because they were concerned about healthcare costs.

Nonetheless, patients and providers still aren’t talking about cost. Sixty-six percent of survey respondents reported their primary care providers had not discussed healthcare costs, affordability, or strategies to make healthcare more affordable for patients. This is up from 64 percent in 2019.

Providers may need some help to support these patient needs. Three-quarters of clinician respondents said they are at least sometimes feeling symptoms of burnout, and about a quarter of providers attributed that burnout to EHR documentation requirements and other administrative paperwork.

Support from other types of providers or community health partners also emerged as highly needed. Although these figures are better compared to 2019, more than half of providers still need better access to substance use disorder providers (56 percent) and mental health counselors (50 percent).

The report also provided some insight into the state of chronic illness. Forty-one percent of respondents said they or someone in their household is struggling with high blood pressure. Thirty-five percent reported they or someone in their household is struggling with obesity and 28 and 17 percent said the same about mental illness and diabetes, respectively.

Mental health and social isolation are also emerging as top concerns, especially for patients under age 50.

Forty-four percent of individuals ages 18 to 34 and 45 percent of those ages 36 to 50 said they no longer have a desire to be social. Only 29 percent of those ages 50 to 64 said the same.

And these findings are actually lower than they were in year’s past. In 2019, 48 percent of younger consumers ages 18 to 34 said they no longer desired to be social, while equal shares of those ages 36 to 50 said that in 2019 as in 2020. Thirty-five percent of adults age 50 to 64 said they no longer desired to be social in 2019.

Cost is a primary factor in managing chronic illness, or the lack thereof. A whopping 71 percent of respondents said they were concerned about managing a chronic illness because of the costs involved.

These challenges with affordability and chronic disease management will remain salient moving forward, particularly as medical professionals continue to see patients reticent to receive in-person care. But these lessons about patient preferences and trends in healthcare consumerism may help pave a path forward.

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