How Patient Behavior has Transformed Post COVID-19
As global industries face major disruption in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is beyond doubt that the world has changed, resulting in paradigm shifts in consumer behavior. After all, how many people would opt for waiting in line at supermarkets, when one can just as easily order groceries online, choosing between curbside pick-up or home delivery? Will the enthusiasm with which music fans brave crowds at concerts or gigs by their favorite bands slow down, when Live-streams and virtual concerts are available online, that can arguably be enjoyed from the safety and comfort of home?
The healthcare industry is no exception. Patient behavior changed to reflect people’s concern and anxiety over their personal health, witnessing a sudden focus in preventive health and wellness. However, when confronted with struggling global economies, unemployment and loss of insurance cover, are patients choosing to forgo medical expenditures, in a bid to prioritize their spending? These contradictory behaviors will shape the future of global healthcare delivery, as the industry adapts to the new normal.
Here are some of the ways the doctor-patient relationship has evolved over the last year.
1. The Future is Here
Health technology grew by leaps and bounds this year, as lockdown measures and social distancing prevented patients from going to regular doctor appointments, making accessibility to care a challenge.
Although telehealth has been advancing over the past decade, the onset of COVID-19 fast tracked the application of technology available, as healthcare organizations raced to provide solutions to enhance patient experience, using:
- Tele-consultation through video conferencing applications like Zoom or Google Meet.
- All in one practice management software, with e- prescriptions and electronic health records.
- Remote patient monitoring devices or wearables like fitness bands (the Apple watch and Samsung watch) getting FDA approval as medical devices for ECG and heart rate monitoring.
- E-pharmacy services, facilitating home delivery and auto-renewal of prescriptions
Patients, in return, responded with enthusiasm to personalized and convenient access to healthcare. Improved patient experience resulted in robust investment in technology-based products that could facilitate easy monitoring and consultations for chronic diseases, including medical devices and self- examination tools like digital stethoscopes, smart glucometers and comprehensive solutions like, the Med Wand. The omnipresent smartphone is on its way to becoming the point of care testing device of the future, allowing patients to take active engagement in their health.
For example, there are several healthcare based smart phone applications, that help with monitoring of sugar values, dietary intake as well as recording activity and heart rate making it easier for both the physician and the patient to monitor chronic health conditions. It also serves as a trusty reminder for patients to take their medication on time and adhere to lifestyle changes that may help them with their recovery and well-being.
The willingness of patients to trust and make use of digital health programs and tools, opened up new market opportunities for health care providers as well. They became motivated to engage with new patient populations by up-scaling their service models.
2. Healthcare at Home
Elderly patients, or patients suffering from debilitating chronic illnesses that left them housebound, bed ridden, or unable to travel to hospitals or clinics, took advantage of home healthcare facilities offered by healthcare organizations. The convenience of having a doctor, nurse or allied health professional like physiotherapists, aides or technicians for laboratory blood testing, portable X-ray and sonography investigations, was a game changer.
Patients are willing to invest in these measures to reduce the risk of infection while travelling to a healthcare center, as well as the possible exposure to the COVID-19 virus in waiting rooms or emergency rooms. This practice has resulted in a gradual reduction in footfall at hospital out- patient departments and clinics. The trend of the “visiting doctor” may be here to stay.
3. Mental Health Matters
The practice of social distancing, work from home and home schooling are necessary for health and safety of the population. However, it did result in feelings of isolation and depression, coupled with growing anxiety over the state of economies and job security. With this, the mental health of the global population was brought into focus. Patients started reaching out to mental health professionals to guide them through these challenging times, choosing to invest in self-care, when earlier it may have been a taboo subject in some communities, or considered a wasteful expense.
In the United States, the Kaiser Family Foundation Poll, painted a bleak picture, indicating that a large number of the population have reported adverse effects on their mental health. A national emergency hotline established by the federal government and run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, used by individuals facing severe emotional distress, showed a nearly 1000% increase in April of this year. Talkspace, a company providing online therapy services, reported a 65% increase in patients who enrolled after February 2020, citing anxiety due to Coronavirus as their main concern.
Patients see value in easing their mental burdens by reaching out for professional help if required to get them through these challenging times.
4. Sanitization and Safety
The ease and speed with which the COVID-19 virus spreads through populations and communities, has made people more aware of the cleanliness of their surroundings. The use of personal protective equipment like masks, gloves and face-shields have become common place. Homes, office spaces with common areas and transportation facilities are being sanitized more often, in the hope of preventing infections, showing a considerable change in consumer and patient behavior, as they invest in preventive methods.
5. Better Safe than Sorry
Patient populations are increasingly becoming aware and mindful of their immunity during these unprecedented times. Studies have shown that COVID-19 does affect patients with co-morbidities like diabetes and hypertension, as well as vulnerable populations like the elderly, children and those with immunocompromised states, to a greater degree. While these patient groups are being careful to monitor their pre-existing conditions, people on the whole have started to look after both their physical and mental health.
There is a considerable shift in consumer behavior patterns as they choose to invest in lifestyle modifications like:
- Wholesome food choices.
- Regular exercise routines.
- Yoga and meditation.
- Immune boosting products.
- Preventive health check ups
However, there is a dark cloud to this silver lining. The flip side shows completely opposing behavior patterns, in some communities. In countries where people’s access to healthcare is dependent on medical insurance provided by their employers, the sudden surge of unemployment, with struggling global economies, has left patients bearing the brunt of high medical expenses, leading to relatively conservative spending in healthcare in these segments. Some have chosen to postpone elective surgeries, procedures or health screenings, while others have had to cautiously optimize their resources and limit spending on drugs or preventive measures for chronic conditions. The effect on population health with both these positive and negative factors, remains to be seen.
Overall, patient behavior has seen a move towards adaptive decision making to prioritize health. These decisions are being made during extremely fluid times, forcing us out of our comfort zones and making us pay attention to both physical and mental well-being. The healthcare industry has rebounded with innovative ways to navigate through this time, as diagnostics, medical supply chains, operations and delivery of care goes through paradigm shifts, which may become the new normal in the years to come.
(PwC), PricewaterhouseCoopers. “The COVID-19 Pandemic Is Influencing Consumer Health Behavior. Are the Changes Here to Stay?” PwC, 2020, www.pwc.com/us/en/library/covid-19/covid-19-consumer-behavior.html.
Murphy, Chris, et al. “Coronavirus and Behavior Change.” Ipsos, Mar. 2020, www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/ct/publication/documents/2020-03/coronavirus-behavior-change-ipsos.pdf.
Basu, Tanya. “The Coronavirus Pandemic Is a Game Changer for Mental Health Care.” MIT Technology Review, MIT Technology Review, 15 Apr. 2020, www.technologyreview.com/2020/03/20/905184/coronavirus-online-therapy-mental-health-app-teletherapy/.