Healthcare in 2021: How to Restore Consumer Confidence

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Low angle view of female nurses pushing patients on wheelchairs with doctor walking at corridor in hospital

By Jim Durkin, Martec founding partner

While healthcare providers, telehealth companies, and insurers all try to discern their path forward in a post-pandemic landscape, our recently released study shows significant levels of consumer insecurity. Concerns have been identified for both in-person and remote care. Findings also draw a roadmap for healthcare providers looking to regain consumer trust and optimize capacity levels.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, patients expressed extreme frustration with in-office appointment scheduling, wait times, and cost transparency. Addressing patient experience dissatisfaction with these items post-pandemic will continue to be critical to mitigate loss of patient visits and revenue. Successful providers will accelerate the redesign of the patient experience – for both in-person and remote visits – to deliver offerings that support convenience for the patient.

Our nationwide study with the healthcare marketing division of The Motion Agency documents that over half of consumers now have experienced a remote visit with a healthcare provider – up from 31% in February 2020. Among those who haven’t engaged in a virtual visit yet, a third say they’re highly likely to consider one.

How to Appeal to Different Types of Patients

The study found that the largest percentage of both groups – 46% of telehealth users and 53% of those who have not used telehealth yet – are neutral about future engagement. They’re intrigued, but they need to be won over still. The apparent tradeoffs with remote versus in-person healthcare have yet to move the needle towards positive sentiment. Forty percent of respondents indicate missing the structure of in-person visits with physicians, while the lure of no wait times and easily getting appointments is welcome.

As the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths decline and the percentage of those vaccinated climbs, healthcare providers need to recapture the confidence healthcare consumers had before the pandemic. Some patients have postponed appointments from a few months to more than a year; yet regular appointments are the best method for flagging early signs of disease. Consistent visits provide for lifestyle discussions and essential treatment for chronic conditions. These interventions can be the difference between life and death.

In the end, to succeed in getting more patients to return and continue utilizing healthcare services, providers need to customize their outreach to individual consumer segments. They also need to meet at the patient’s preferred form of reengagement. The study identified four unique consumer segments with significantly varying viewpoints on reengaging healthcare systems.

Meet the Healthcare System Re-engagers

Apprehensive Re-engagers –22% of those surveyed, between 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 exposure is very low.

Concerned Re-engagers – 31% of those surveyed, the oldest segment at age 55 or more, 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 remote visits. 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. Presenting information about pre-testing of technology and preparing FAQ documents also will help this group. 

Remote Re-engagers – 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 updates regarding secure data and privacy and urge this group to participate in digital wellness platforms and home-based testing. Highlighting how advanced healthcare has become will boost their reengagement levels.  

Confident Re-engagers – 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 touchpoints to address all segments’ concerns about healthcare experiences:

  • Use more opportunities on websites, chatbots, social media, wellness blogs, and customer reviews to discuss successful case stories of technology use in healthcare and demonstrate the wellbeing of those 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.

References

This study was conducted using The Martec Emotion Score (MES), which is calculated by plotting conscious and nonconscious emotions on a spectrum of unpleasant to pleasant, adjusted for relative intensity of feelings or passion level. The MES equates to a number between -100 (totally unpleasant) and +100 (totally pleasant). An MES near 0 indicates a significant presence of both pleasant and unpleasant emotions.

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