Patients may require different types of post-pandemic reassurances before seeking care

Jim Durkin

As restrictions are lifted and the threat of Covid wanes, the medical community will need to work hard to encourage patients to reengage and seek care.

Since the shutdown in March of 2020, millions of people have delayed or canceled routine screenings, surgeries, and other non-emergency medical care. According to a report from the American Medical Association, 41% of people opted to forgo medical care between March and mid-July 2020 alone.

Now, as restrictions are lifted and the threat of Covid wanes, the medical community will need to work hard to encourage patients to reengage and seek care. Already, many people face diagnoses that will be more advanced than if they had sought care last year and simply waiting for patients to return may lead to even worse outcomes.

In a nationwide 2020 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. Findings also draw a roadmap for healthcare providers looking to regain consumer trust and optimize capacity levels.

Appealing to different types of patients

Our 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 toward positive sentiment. Forty percent of respondents indicate missing the structure of in-person visits with physicians, while the prospect 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 patients had before the pandemic. Some 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. Recurring visits provide for lifestyle discussions and essential treatment for chronic conditions. These interventions can be the difference between life and death.

To persuade more patients to return and continue using healthcare services, providers need to customize their outreach to individual consumer segments. They also need to meet patients at their preferred form of reengagement. To better understand how to accomplish this, the study identified four distinct consumer segments with significantly varying viewpoints on reengaging with healthcare systems.

Meet the healthcare system re-engagers

Apprehensive re-engagers—This group includes22% of those surveyed. They are ages 35-54, highly health literate, and express the highest level of negative emotions 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. They will need the most guidance. Emphasizing how far virtual medicine has come will be important, along with showing success stories. Letting them know that physicians can seamlessly order lab tests, which patients can collect 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, age 55 or older, living in rural and suburban communities. They are the 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 also 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 hearing or vision difficulties, 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, they are the most resistant to in-person doctor visits. They like the convenience of remote visits but have concerns about data security. Healthcare organizations and providers should underscore their system updates regarding data security and privacy and urge this group to participate in digital wellness platforms and home-based testing. Highlighting how technologically advanced healthcare has become will boost their overall engagement levels.

Confident re-engagers – 17% of those surveyed, ages 35-54, mostly urban dwellers, they have the lowest level of concern about either in-person or 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

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 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 these consumer segments and address each group accordingly.

Durkin is founding partner of the Martec Group, a global market research and consulting firm.