Consumer interest in virtual healthcare services has been slowly but steadily growing for years. Now that the coronavirus has hit, demand for virtual care has soared.
A Lightico survey of over 1,000 consumers conducted on March 29th, 2020 reveals the impact of COVID-19 on consumer preferences for digital healthcare. The results show a strong preference for remote and digital channels, which bodes well for telehealth providers.
The question now is whether healthcare providers can use this crisis to increase their sustained efficacy using digital technology. Only time will tell, but those who successfully meet consumers’ needs today will find themselves in a stronger position after the crisis is over.
Here are a couple of the top insights from the recent digital healthcare study:
Customers are concerned about their health and finances
It’s little surprise that in an era of social distancing and mandatory government lockdowns, 82% of people report being concerned about leaving their home. For the vast majority of us, venturing outside the safe confines of home is to be avoided unless it’s for an essential purpose, such as supermarket shopping. And even those essential activities are relegated to the online realm if possible –– as evidenced by the dearth of slots for grocery deliveries.
Similarly, even though caring for one’s health is a basic need, 78% of customers say they are likely to avoid a health-related visit that is unrelated to the coronavirus in the coming weeks. That mysterious back pain, persistent rash, and routine blood test are all likely to be postponed. In some cases, even more serious health visits are being postponed, as people weigh the benefits of getting an issue dealt with against the risks of catching the virus.
There may also be a financial component to people’s reticence to seek healthcare services. 56% of consumers express concern about being able to pay back loans, and the last thing they need is a costly doctor’s appointment or procedure. Financially-strapped consumers are likely to push off any healthcare treatment that isn’t immediately urgent –– even if they need it.
Consumers are already using digital healthcare services
Virtual healthcare services, also known as telemedicine or telehealth, are gaining prominence. Already, 31% of consumers have used a digital channel (e.g., video call, chat, etc.) to communicate with a healthcare professional in the past several weeks. This is predictably popular among younger consumers, of whom nearly 40% have used a digital channel for this purpose during the coronavirus outbreak.
But older consumers are not complete strangers to using digital channels for their healthcare needs. Far from it. The survey shows that 20% of consumers aged 55-75 have used a digital channel to communicate with a healthcare professional in recent weeks. This is very important, as older people are the ones who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus and are advised to stay indoors. The fact that they demonstrate some openness to using digital channels means they can get access to care while staying safe.
Consumers are demanding more digital healthcare – now
As the coronavirus continues to spread, demand for more comprehensive digital healthcare options is exploding. An astounding 80% of consumers would prefer to receive a virtual/remote healthcare consultation before going to a hospital or doctor’s office. And the same percentage would choose to participate in a remote consultation if given the opportunity. In today’s world, going to a physical location to receive healthcare services is widely perceived as a last resort.
And it’s not just doctors’ visits that are being avoided in favor of remote services. 71% of consumers prefer to use digital means to fill out and send documents to their healthcare provider. Only 29% claim to prefer physical paperwork. It’s likely that if consumers knew just how intuitive and secure many of today’s digital transaction tools were, the percentage of digital-preferring consumers would be even higher.
Simplified, remote healthcare options are a must
Prior to the coronavirus, consumers and healthcare providers were starting to warm to the idea of telehealth. Now that practicing social distancing is the norm, this previously peripheral section of healthcare is now the star of the show.
There is much talk of how the habits acquired by necessity during the coronavirus will persist even when the crisis ends. Healthcare providers can rest assured that the investments they make in remote healthcare today –– from digitized form and documents submission, to virtual consultations –– will pay off far into the future.