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COVID-19 pandemic driving increased focus on healthcare consumerism

The youngest generations, including Gen Z and millennial patients, are feeling the biggest impact.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

The changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic are leading to more healthcare consumerism, with patients taking their medical care -- and the costs associated with it -- into their own hands. TransUnion Healthcare's second annual patient survey found that nearly six in 10 patients (59%) deferred non-coronavirus related medical care during the past six months.

It surveyed more than 3,000 people in September who had either visited a hospital, healthcare clinic, doctor's office or other healthcare organization for treatment during the past 12 months.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT 

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In addition to the changes that the pandemic has brought to the healthcare industry, nearly half of survey respondents (49%) indicated that the state of the economy has at least some impact on how they seek medical care. This number was a seven basis-point increase from 2019.

The youngest generations are feeling the biggest impact. In fact, 33% of Gen Z and 29% of millennial patients reported their health insurance coverage was impacted due to the pandemic (compared to 22% of overall respondents; 18% of Gen X; and 12% of baby boomers).

Interestingly, while patient out-of-pocket (OOP) expenses in 2020 remain near their highest levels across all care settings, the overall change in OOP costs is limited when compared to 2019 levels (inpatient down 5% year-over-year to $5,002; outpatient up 6% year-over-year to $1,095; and emergency department down 7% year-over-year to $485). 

Given these minimal changes, patients' focus on understanding costs prior to service, and the growth in consumerism, appear to be driven by the material, financial impacts of the pandemic and insurance plan disruptions.

Supporting the increasing trend of healthcare consumerism, the survey also found 80% of respondents utilized either healthcare provider or payer/insurance websites, among other sources, to research healthcare costs -- up from 75% in 2019. Younger generations are more likely to be researching these costs compared to older generations (90% of Gen Z respondents and 87% of millennial respondents compared to 69% of baby boomer respondents).

What's more, the desire for a clear understanding of healthcare costs has a direct impact on healthcare providers: 47% percent of recent patients chose their healthcare provider based on cost.

PRICE TRANSPARENCY

With consumerism taking hold within the industry, price transparency is increasingly more critical for healthcare providers as patients shoulder more of the burden of healthcare costs.

The survey revealed that 53% of recent patients received clear cost estimates prior to receiving treatment. While this number is a three basis point year-over-year increase, more may need to be done to educate patients on their healthcare costs and payment options. Only 52% of patients fully understood their financial responsibility for their recent medical bill.

And when patients clearly understand their costs, they're more likely to pay for their treatment. Sixty percent are at least somewhat likely to pay their bill upfront if a cost estimate is offered in advance or at the time of service. When given an estimate at the time of service, nearly two-thirds, 65%, said they would make at least a partial payment.

In addition to offering patient estimates, further considerations that can help healthcare providers drive patient engagement and deliver a more streamlined and positive patient financial experience include creating customized patient payment models and providing financing options that fit patients' individual needs.

THE LARGER TREND

Consumers are concerned about the impact of the pandemic on their health and wallets, and are behaving accordingly. In late April, PricewaterhouseCoopers' Health Research Institute found 32% percent of survey respondents said they had already made, or were planning, adjustments to their spending on healthcare visits as a result of COVID-19.

Of these consumers, 78% said they would skip at least one visit, such as a well visit, maintenance visit for a chronic illness, elective procedure, or recommended lab test or screening, while 30% predicted that their spending on healthcare visits would increase overall.
 

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com

The Business of Health

This special collection of stories, which will be updated throughout the month, explores how hospitals, health systems and physicians are attempting to not only financially survive, but thrive, under the new normal.