By JIM DURKIN
Less than half of the population of Florida is fully vaccinated even while the Covid vaccine is widely available. For the nearly 20% of residents over the age of 65, this could be concerning as they return to normal daily life and more public activities, including visiting healthcare providers. Missed screenings and checkups during the past year has led to an increase in more advanced diagnoses. Yet some people are still not comfortable reengaging with the healthcare system. That is a challenge providers must solve.
To give healthcare providers more insights into how patients are feeling about reengaging with healthcare systems, The Martec Group conducted a nationwide study and found that age and location play an important role in how people feel about in-person and telehealth care. The study also identified what healthcare providers can do to improve patient confidence.
Understanding Patient Sentiments
Four patient groups were identified in the Martec Group study. Older patients were generally the most disrupted by not being able to visit medical providers in person. Overall, more people used telehealth for the first time or more frequently during the pandemic than they had before. But not everyone liked the shift. Martec Group’s study shows 46% of telehealth users and 53% of those who have not used telehealth before are neutral about future engagement. They’re intrigued about how telehealth could benefit them, but they need to be won over still. 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.
Here are the unique breakdowns of the patient groups:
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. Preparing FAQ documents 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 overall engagement 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 likely to see 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
Healthcare providers should create more touchpoints to address each group’s concerns:
- Use more opportunities on websites, chatbots, social media, wellness blogs, and customer reviews to discuss successful 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
As life returns to normal people who are feeling healthy may continue to delay regular checkups and procedures because they’d rather be spending their time traveling, visiting family, or doing other things they haven’t been able to do for the past year and healthcare could be put on a backburner. Providers in Florida are in a unique environment as daily life transitions to a new normal. The demographics of the local population indicate that a significant percentage of patients would prefer to return to in-person visits, but they may need additional communication to reassure them of safety measures being taken in the office. Identifying how patients are feeling and addressing their unique needs and concerns will help maximize post-pandemic recovery.
Jim Durkin is a founding partner of The Martec Group, a global market research firm headquartered in North America with offices in Chicago, Detroit, Frankfurt (Germany), and Shanghai (China) providing unparalleled quantitative and qualitative research to top companies worldwide. Visit martecgroup.com