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Most consumers have changed healthcare usage since COVID-19 pandemic, survey shows

From delaying care to avoiding urgent care and walk-in clinics, consumer behavior is changing as the pandemic continues.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Citing concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus, 72% of U.S. consumers have dramatically changed their use of traditional healthcare services, with many delaying in-person care and embracing virtual care, according to a new national survey released Thursday by the Alliance of Community Health Plans and AMCP, conducted by Leede Research.

Among the respondents, 58% cite their doctor as the most trusted source of information about the virus, but only 31% feel "comfortable" visiting their doctor's office, leading to significant changes in attitudes and behavior toward standard healthcare services.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT?

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The changes have affected many facets of the healthcare industry. For example, 41% of consumers have delayed healthcare services, while 42% say they feel uncomfortable going to a hospital for any kind of medical treatment.

As many as 45% feel uncomfortable using an urgent care or walk-in clinic, while 38% intend to delay future care, treatment and procedures.

When it comes to testing, most respondents (64%) want to be tested for COVID-19, but more than a third are concerned about their ability to access testing and treatment. In terms of location, 69% reported feeling comfortable being tested at their doctor's office – a sharp contrast to the mere 18% who expressed feeling comfortable getting tested at their workplace.

The pandemic has not dramatically altered the popularity of in-person pharmacy visits. While 39% of those surveyed feel comfortable being tested for COVID-19 at a pharmacy, nearly half report feeling "very comfortable" picking up prescriptions at their local pharmacy and speaking with their pharmacists about their medications.

In fact, in the last 90 days, 47% received new medication, and the overwhelming majority, 90%, did so at a local retail pharmacy. Only 9% used home delivery from a local pharmacy, and 24% used a mail-order pharmacy.

At 74%, the majority believe it is likely or very likely there will be a resurgence of coronavirus in the fall or winter, creating uncertainty about their plans for elective and diagnostic procedures. About 38% would delay scheduling elective procedures for at least six months, while 27% would delay scheduling diagnostic procedures or tests in a hospital setting for at least six months.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents reported that they or someone in their household has a chronic condition. This group had a higher incidence (60%) of delaying care during the pandemic than other segments of the population (41%). When members of this group tried smartphone apps to manage or treat a medical condition in the last 90 days, an overwhelming 97% rated them as valuable or very valuable.

As unemployment rises, so does anxiety about losing health insurance. Nearly a quarter of those with insurance are worried about losing coverage within the next six months. Among uninsured respondents, 38% expressed a willingness to pay $75-$300 per month for coverage.

THE LARGER TREND

COVID-19 isn't just affecting healthcare usage – it's affecting spending as well.

A Pricewaterhouse Coopers survey from earlier this week showed that about 32% of consumers are planning to adjust, or have already adjusted, their healthcare spending for visits due to the coronavirus, while 22% said the same about medication spending.

Consumers with complex chronic illness and those in healthy families were more likely than other groups to say they would adjust their spending on healthcare visits or medications. Delaying procedures, reducing spending on preventive care and chronic care, and decreasing adherence to medications may have negative long-term impacts on health status, PwC found, although the extent is unknown.

ON THE RECORD

"The pandemic has put consumers in a healthcare tailspin: They want to be tested for COVID-19, and for that, they rank their doctor's office as the place they would feel most comfortable," said Ceci Connolly, president and CEO of ACHP. "However, for all other health care services and treatment, consumers want to delay visiting health care facilities altogether. As a result, we see a healthcare industry, already stretched due to coronavirus itself, struggling to provide care and coverage. The successful consumer adoption of telehealth services provides one bright light for the industry today."

"This survey highlights the crucial role pharmacists play in today's healthcare system," said AMCP CEO Susan A. Cantrell. "Consumers' confidence in pharmacists is impressive with significant percentages filling their prescriptions at a retail pharmacy over the past three months and stating they would feel comfortable getting tested for COVID-19 at a pharmacy. Such testing expands the role pharmacists have played during this pandemic. This consumer confidence presents an enormous opportunity for pharmacists to support a strained health care system because the same consumers are delaying visits with other healthcare providers due to safety concerns."
 

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com