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The global pandemic has shown us how fragile good health is and consumers have become laser-focused on their medical care. McKinsey now values the global health and wellness market at US$1.5 trillion. From digital workout gear to vitamins and supplements, the market has boomed around helping consumers stay healthy, look and feel good, and stay in shape.
But how has the provider-patient relationship transformed over the past two years, and what care are consumers craving?
Compared to 2020, patient interest grew for all telehealth appointment types in 2021, with the highest growth rates for receiving treatment for a minor illness, such as a cold (up 21 percent), and receiving various types of digital therapy (up 21 percent).
Telehealth use has garnered great momentum since 2020 for obvious reasons, as patients looked to maintain their course of care amid the disruption caused by the pandemic. Staggering numbers of global patients have utilized telehealth services. For about half of global consumers, preventative health measures are the predominant driver of telehealth appointments, slightly ahead of illness-related concerns.
Optimizing telehealth technology execution, guiding patients through the telehealth process to ensure they are comfortable, and expanding appointments is what will ultimately help propel this delivery model forward in 2022. Virtual visits may not provide patients with appointment-type care (for example, physical therapy), thus healthcare organizations must determine how to best use telehealth in a more strategic omnichannel approach.
The pandemic has brought the necessity of at-home care to the fore. Naturally, home has become a healthcare setting for patients—from health and wellness to healthcare engagement via virtual visits and remote patient monitoring (RPM), consumers are embracing new technologies that can enable their continued course of care at home.
In particular, at-home testing has now gone mainstream, as diagnostic COVID-19 tests have been distributed for free across several countries—including the US with an announcement by the government in December 2021 that it would offer 500 million free at-home COVID tests in an effort to combat the Omnicron variant of the virus. The demand for at-home diagnostics will only continue to accelerate in 2022, a trend that was already well underway before the pandemic.
We have found that physical therapy is the one form of digital therapy for which customer preference declined YoY (by 25 percent globally), with a particularly steep drop in preference by 44 percent of consumers ages 45 to 54. This likely represents an opportunity for telehealth providers to offer new ways of meeting the expectations of increasingly demanding health consumers, a requirement that has already been recognized in other telehealth fields such as mental health. User experience modeling and other techniques born from ecommerce are becoming increasingly important as telehealth matures.
But some care cannot be delivered at home and nearly one-third of patients have postponed a necessary procedure in 2021, citing safety concerns, up 17 percent from 2020. While this cohort is likely to be reduced naturally as concerns around COVID-19 exposure diminish, it is also likely that new ways of engaging with patients will encourage scheduling of necessary treatments.
More than 40 percent are at least minimally concerned about the security of their personal health information. Building digital experiences that are compliant with HIPAA and GDPR is only part of the solution to giving health consumers comfort about the safety of their PHI; it is also incumbent on providers of these experiences to communicate in clear language how information is being protected at each stage of engagement. In guided-selling solutions for medical devices or dietary supplements, for example, it should always be clear why each piece of information is being requested, and how it will be used. This can be done unobtrusively within the information collection process by including small links to callouts explaining these factors at each step.
We have also seen that the major pain point of in-person appointments is scheduling. Healthcare providers must address all systematic touchpoints, as consumer experience frustrations can inhibit the execution of even simple tasks, as well as overall patient satisfaction—not to mention the time spent from an administrative perspective. Consumer preference for online patient portals when making appointments represents a good opportunity to alleviate this particular pain point moving forward.
A strong gap was found in the perception health consumers have regarding what can be considered easily obtained care versus their actual health benefits. This inability to access all of the benefits available to a consumer, whether just perceived or actual, is certain to create frustration, and could even diminish motivation to seek healthcare. A common example of this dynamic is when a patient has an initial telehealth consultation with a primary care physician, who then refers the patient to a specialist who refuses to use telehealth. If the in-person appointment with the specialist is weeks or months down the road, or getting to the office is challenging, inertia can result.
As digital health utilization increases and the expectations of health consumers grow, the disciplines of customer and user experience will be key differentiators for the most successful health and wellness brands and healthcare providers.
John Audette is SVP, Global Head of HLS at Astound Commerce.