Considering all the pressures that beset healthcare practices each year, a global pandemic dwarfs the usual industry challenges. In 2020, private practices and providers adjusted to business reductions (or closures), re-opening phases, and new safety protocols and PPE needs. Patients also had adjustments to make.
Telehealth visits. Extra safety measures during reopening phases. New ways to register, check in, and communicate with their healthcare providers. How did these changes affect the way patients think of healthcare delivery?
In our continuing initiative to gauge and share the patient perspective with the industry, PatientPop conducted survey research with patients in December 2020. This was our second patient survey of the year, a follow-up to a similar one in August. In short, more patients continue to embrace a streamlined, digital experience and many feel relatively safe returning to their doctors’ offices.
Patients’ plans to visit healthcare providers in the coming months
As a healthcare provider, what is your no-show risk for this early part of 2021? To begin informing the answer to that question, we found that roughly three-quarters of people had a healthcare appointment scheduled between December 2020 and February 2021. (Note: This question was posed in early December.)
Even with the pandemic surging in parts of the country, the majority of patients with in-person visits over the next couple months plan to go. 15.8 percent of patients are not sure or won’t attend due to COVID-19.
As a comparison, nearly all patients with upcoming telehealth appointments plan to attend, making them 14 percent more likely to show up than patients with in-person appointments.
Patients’ levels of comfort with in-person visits
For insights on how patients feel about an in-person medical appointment, we asked patients about their comfort levels, as we had in our August survey.
In December, more than three-quarters of patients said they feel at least mostly safe visiting their healthcare provider. Nearly 1 in 4 feel either hesitant about a visit, or do not feel safe.
With safety protocols in place at practices, 31.5 percent of patients feel very safe with an in-person healthcare visit. This is a 45.5 percent increase over the same response in August, which could indicate patients have become better-educated about pandemic-related safety. (See below for data on how practices have educated their patients.)
Patients’ experiences with telehealth
In one of the most significant shifts ever in care delivery, telehealth quickly became the way for patients to see their doctors and other healthcare providers in 2020. Whether in response to stay-at-home orders, or an option offered by practices, by year’s end, the majority of patients had experienced a virtual visit in 2020.
More than 80 percent said they were comfortable using telehealth to see their doctor, and more than 3 of 4 patients said they would prefer another telehealth visit. Both percentages reflect a modest increase over patient responses we received in August, meaning an increasing number of people are trying and preferring virtual care.
In fact, once a patient experiences a telehealth visit, they are 52.5 percent more likely to prefer telehealth for a future appointment. One out of four would like a virtual visit whenever possible.
Educating patients about COVID-19
A 2020 study showed that two-thirds of patients look to their local healthcare provider as the trusted source of COVID-19 information. Meeting that expectation requires sharing regular, helpful information, a critical component of the provider-patient relationship.
For providers to maintain trust with patients, and solidify their role as local healthcare leaders, proactive communication is essential — especially in the face of confusion, mistrust, and misinformation.
Healthcare practices employed a variety of communication tactics to reach patients in 2020. Unfortunately, more than one-quarter of practices did not proactively share information related to COVID-19 with patients. (As one PatientPop strategist has shared in our live webinars, he received more communication from his child’s school district than their pediatrician.)
As the way that patients interact with healthcare practices continues to evolve, one fact is certain: The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly accelerated the use of online tools to schedule and receive care, and connect patients and healthcare providers. As patient preference has grown for a convenient, enhanced experience, practices who identify and respond to those preferences — and proactively communicate with their patients — are well-positioned to thrive during today’s challenges and well beyond.
Survey methodology: PatientPop surveyed 533 patients across the nation in December 2020, using the SurveyMonkey Audience program. Respondents were 55.9 percent female and 44.1 percent male, with a generally even distribution across four age segments, ages 18 and older.