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How Has the COVID-19 Pandemic Changed Consumer Health Care Behavior?

From 2018 to 2020 (pre-pandemic) there was a decrease in consumers' willingness to share their data in all the areas measured, except for health care research, which stayed steady. However, during the pandemic, the study showed an increase in consumer willingness to share data in every scenario measured

Published on August 16, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the health care system upside down and challenged consumers’ sense of well-being. In many ways, consumers are taking charge of their health more than ever before. They are learning about their health risks, communicating with their doctors in new and different ways, and changing their attitudes about data privacy. Each of these factors has a significant influence on how consumers are feeling and interacting with the health system.

Deloitte gained an understanding of current U.S. consumer behaviors and attitudes through its Deloitte Center for Health Solutions’ “2020 Survey of US Health Care Consumers“. Since 2008, Deloitte has been conducting this survey to explore and collect longitudinal data on the subject, and this year the survey rolled out just before the pandemic started. To add insights from consumers during the pandemic, Deloitte compared this with data from Deloitte’s “Health Care Consumer Response to COVID-19 Survey” conducted in April 2020.

Caring about data sharing
After a slight decline in willingness to share data before COVID-19, Deloitte’s most recent survey shows that consumers are more comfortable sharing data during a crisis.

  • When asked how willing they would be to share personal health information as a result of the crisis, consumers were in favor across a variety of measures:
    • With their health insurance provider: 71% would be willing as a result of COVID-19 versus 65% prior to COVID-19.
    • With their preferred local health care system or provider: 73% would be willing as a result of COVID-19 versus 71% prior to COVID-19.
    • With a leading national health care provider: 53% would be willing as a result of COVID-19 versus 47% prior to COVID-19.
    • With tech companies: 18% would be willing as a result of COVID-19 versus. 15% prior to COVID-19.
    • With top retailers: 15% would be willing as a result of COVID-19 versus 14% prior to COVID-19.
    • With top online retailers only: 15% would be willing as a result of COVID-19 versus 13% prior to COVID-19.
  • Among those who used a fitness device or a monitoring device, about half shared data from it with their doctor. Those in excellent health (62%) and those with difficult chronic diseases (75%) are most likely to share their information with their doctor.
  • A large majority of consumers (65%) believe they should own their own health data versus 30% who think their doctor should own it, and even fewer who think that the government should own it.

Virtual patients desire better connections
As with in-person visits, consumers expect their virtual visits to be high quality and with clinicians who listen, take their time, and treat them well. The 2020 Survey of US Health Care Consumers found that among consumers who wouldn’t have another virtual care visit, one-third said that quality of care was not as good as with their regular doctor, and 1 in 5 said they did not like the way the clinician treated them.

  • Sixty-six percent of respondents from the Deloitte April COVID-19 consumer survey believe that a doctor or nurse needs to physically examine them to understand their health needs.
  • Fifty-six percent don’t believe they get the same quality of care/value from a virtual visit as from an in-person visit.
  • In the “2020 Deloitte Survey of U.S. Physicians,” 85% of physicians across the country said that training around improving virtual visit skills, such as conveying empathy, is essential but absent in their practice.

Consumers in control
Even as consumers use virtual visits and other non-traditional settings, they still expect trusting relationships and pleasant experiences with their clinicians. This is particularly true for people with chronic conditions, as they are most likely to value a sustained relationship.

  • In early 2020, 51% of consumers said they were very or extremely likely to tell their doctors when they disagree with them. More than half of seniors and boomers are likely to be vocal about their disagreement versus half/less than half of younger generations — 63% of seniors and 57% of boomers versus 50% of Gen X and 46% of millennials and Gen Z.
  • When asked to rank the most important factors for an ideal experience with their doctor earlier this year:
    • Forty-four of consumers ranked “a doctor or health care provider who listens to me and shows they care about me” as the No. 1 factor.
    • Forty-two of consumers ranked “a doctor or health care provider who spends time with me and does not rush through the exam.”
    • Thirty-nine of consumers ranked “a doctor or health care provider who clearly explains what they are doing during the exam and what I need to do after the visit.”
    • And lastly, 25% ranked “doctors and other health care providers who communicate with each other and coordinate treatment.

“To maintain or even re-earn the trust of consumers during such an unprecedented time in our history, health care organizations should demonstrate reliability, transparency, and, most importantly, a sense of empathy in how they conduct operations moving forward. As consumers consider their options for where they’ll get their care, health care leaders should consider addressing multigenerational health and equity challenges, help reduce uncertainty and enable more virtual, compassionate, equitable, predictive, and preventative care.” – David Betts, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Associate Writer