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Two-thirds of U.S consumers are likely to switch healthcare providers if COVID-19 is poorly managed

The findings speak to the importance of patient experience and the need for providers to offer more digital approaches.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. patients are likely to switch to a new healthcare provider if their current one doesn't meet their expectations for managing COVID-19 concerns, according to a new report from professional services company Accenture.

Based on a survey of more than 4,600 respondents, the report, "Elevating the Patient Experience to Fuel Growth," said patients are looking for a safer, more secure and convenient healthcare experience – including strict sanitary and safety protocols, as well as virtual care options.

And those who believe their healthcare providers handled COVID-19 poorly were three times more likely than satisfied patients to say they will either delay seeking services for at least a year or never return to that provider.

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The findings speak to the importance of patient experience, and authors said it should inspire providers to offer more holistic, digital approaches that center on patients' access to care and quality post-care services, which will better position them for long-term growth.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT?

The report suggests four ways to improve the patient experience.

The first is to address concerns in a personalized manner. Providers would do well to communicate specific actions to protect patients – such as offering separate entrances, allowing contactless payment and online paperwork, or even describing the advanced level of protective gear used by staff. When possible, physicians should deliver the message directly.

It also recommends addressing unique patient needs and easing COVID-19 concerns before a patient steps into the office or enters a virtual waiting room. Key to this is embedding new safety and wellness protocols and practices throughout every interaction, from finding a doctor to scheduling an appointment or completing registration in advance of a visit. In fact, the survey found that 74% of patients are now likely to use online chat or texting to provide check-in information before their appointment if such a service is available.

Accenture suggests that providers develop new models that use more virtual care, from bookings to meetings, so those who remain wary of in-person care have more options. Patients have indicated a strong desire for this to happen. In a survey of 2,700 patients that Accenture conducted in May, 60% said that, based on their experience using virtual care and devices during the pandemic, they want to use technology more for communicating with healthcare providers and managing their conditions in the future.

Lastly, providers should actively monitor local and national social channels to gather real-time insight into patient perceptions and community sentiment. This enables quick operational pivots to address consumer needs and measure progress along the way.

THE LARGER TREND

An examination of consumer sentiment before and during the pandemic conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers' Health Research Institute in April found that the pandemic is influencing consumer behavior, with consumer trust now shifting

Businesses could play an even bigger role in protecting the health of their workers. The health system likely will make more room for telehealth and other forms of virtual care, and the consumer may take a more active role in managing their health and participating in a system that is essentially being remade, the report found.

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 national survey released in May 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. That situation is leading to significant changes in attitudes and behavior toward standard healthcare services.
 

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