Across the United States and around the world, healthcare providers are on the front lines of the pandemic working valiantly to save lives. At the same time, industry leaders are trying to figure out how to map out plans for a recovery that will restore the financial health of their institutions. It is abundantly clear the effects of COVID-19 are going to be felt long after this crisis has passed. According to a new Primacy survey of 600 consumers in markets across the country, the COVID-19 crisis is not only disrupting the delivery of healthcare, but it’s also changing the way patients and consumers want and expect to receive it.
New Opportunities in Telehealth
Among the key takeaways from the survey, which was conducted by Primacy the weekend of March 28-29, 2020, is the fact that there is greater awareness, use, and desire for telehealth or virtual visits among all consumers. A clear majority of respondents (68%) said they would be likely to seek out a virtual visit if they had a healthcare need during the COVID-19 crisis. Willingness to access telehealth was seen across all age groups. Among those 35 to 54 in our survey, 56% support telehealth. Among those 55 and over, 51% would seek out a virtual visit and only 9% said they were extremely unlikely to use telehealth. As some respondents put it, “With a virtual visit, you don’t have to drive or wait to see a doctor,” and “You’re not in danger of being infected by someone else in the waiting room.” Asked what services they’d like most, 73% indicated a desire for virtual primary care. This service was the overwhelming choice, followed by specialist visits, urgent care, behavioral health and online consults with a pediatrician. On the digital health front, our findings indicate other areas of opportunity for healthcare as the industry moves into recovery, like remote monitoring of patients with chronic diseases.
Volume and Revenue: How Much Can Be Recovered?
The first order of business in any proactive recovery plan is to take stock of the damage. In our survey, we set out to gauge the impact on volume and revenue, and to provide some insights to help organizations begin to answer the question of how much can be recovered.
There will be serious losses due to COVID-19. As you see in the graphics above, roughly half of those surveyed say they had an appointment canceled during the crisis. Of that, 85% intend to reschedule. If those numbers hold true around the country, that represents at least a 15% hit. However, some industry thought leaders are forecasting losses as steep as 40%. Wherever the final numbers land, it’s clear a large hospital system that had a reasonably good bottom line going into this is going to weather the storm much better than a smaller system or stand-alone hospital that not only has lower margins but may lack financial reserves. Considering this, it’s important to understand what federal assistance your organization may be entitled to and to file early.
Connecting with Consumers
This pandemic has brought to light some additional insights that should be welcome news for every physician, hospital and healthcare system. Consumers value information from their providers, particularly in this trying time, and they’re receptive to getting your messages in their inbox. In our survey, 76% report hospital, health system and physician websites are valuable sources of information during the crisis. Provider websites were nearly tied with online news outlets. Nearly half (47%) would prefer COVID-19 updates from their providers by email. Another 18% indicate a willingness for text messages. Taking this opportunity to establish more direct lines of communication will undoubtedly serve to promote patient satisfaction and loyalty long after the crisis has passed.
The Fear Factor: Will It Slow Recovery?
If you described the effort to meet the sudden and crushing demands of this novel coronavirus as an all-out sprint for those in healthcare, then the recovery may be more of a grueling marathon. Our survey indicates there are serious concerns about the prospect of returning to public places, especially for medical or dental care.
Strategists and communications teams need to factor this very real barrier into their recovery initiatives. Create a plan now to sanitize facilities following the epidemic. Proactively communicate these plans to address patients’ concerns even before reopening. This will not be a one-time message; you’ll need to be transparent about what you are doing on an ongoing basis to keep patients and staff safe. Those in healthcare need to be prepared for the reality that there will be no return to business as usual once the immediate crisis has subsided. However, with the right insights, planning and partners, you can develop successful strategies for a new normal after the pandemic. For a full report on this Primacy survey, including key implications for marketing teams and strategists, visit this page.