As Coronavirus (COVID-19) races around the planet, it has already caused fundamental change in industries far beyond healthcare. Schoolrooms across the planet have been shuttered, replaced by virtual classrooms that can be accessed from any student's computer, tablet or smartphone. With the prospect of theaters and sports arenas being forced to close for months, entertainment enterprises across the world are innovating new ways of reaching their audiences. White-collar workforces are being asked to work from home as employers find new ways to keep everyone fully connected. Restaurants, bars and coffee shops have been forced to shut down or find new ways to serve their customers. In the long run, every entrepreneurial spirit understands much of the coming innovation will lead to improved consumer experiences that will last long after Coronavirus is considered a major threat.
As an industry, healthcare systems have been slow to meet the challenges presented by this new age of consumerism. Few healthcare systems have innovated to remain in easy, efficient, continual contact with consumers the way many retailers have. While nearly all healthcare organizations have discussed finding better ways of delivering healthcare for decades, implementation has been slow, and consumer adoption hasn't always resulted in widespread understanding or enthusiasm.
Many organizations are years into a journey of creating innovative ways to make their services more accessible to consumers, but many more are not. In 2016, a poll commissioned by the Medical Group Management Association found that more than 80% of medical practices were in the process of improving patient access to meet the emerging needs of the changing marketplace. However a 2017 study by Merritt Hawkins found that patients nationwide were still waiting an average of more than 24 days for medical appointments. Further, a 2019 Kaufman Hall survey found that only one third of healthcare providers were offering online scheduling, and more than 75% of practices provided few-to-no options for their patients to access virtual visits.
Healthcare organizations that have created access to virtual doctors' visits have found their efforts:
- Improve patient convenience
- Improve operational efficiencies
- Improve population-health management
- Create a sustainable, efficient method of delivering patient-centered healthcare
- Expand their geographic reach
Contrast those findings with a recent study by DocASAP. It asked consumers to list their challenges in scheduling medical appointments:
- 49% said there's a long wait to see a doctor after scheduling an appointment
- 43% said appointments can only be scheduled during business hours
- 42% said it takes too long to schedule an appointment by phone
- 41% said their providers are not available at the time care is needed
- 39% said there were no convenient options to schedule care online
There is clearly a gap in the healthcare marketplace between today's consumer preferences and how many services are being provided. And while many healthcare experts have been working to bridge that gap, could the arrival of Coronavirus be the missing piece that pushes the entire healthcare industry into a new age of consumerism? Might a worldwide pandemic-and the chaos that comes with it-create an environment in which both consumers and healthcare organizations discover new methods to connect that will last long after the danger has passed? While industries as diverse as education, entertainment and hospitality are innovating to keep the Coronavirus from spreading, it's only natural that the healthcare industry would lead the way.
The U.S. news media is already strongly suggesting that those feeling ill should call their primary healthcare providers or have a virtual visit online before showing up in an emergency room. And there is evidence to suggest that a consumer only needs to try a virtual visit once to adopt the method as a trusted healthcare-access point. A 2018 Deloitte Insights Survey found that 77% of consumers who have tried a virtual visit reported high levels of satisfaction. A 2019 Kaufman Hall poll found that 70% of consumers would consider virtual visits. And a 2019 Accenture study discovered that patients with complex health issues use virtual care more often than consumers with simpler health needs.
So what does all of this mean? It means consumers are ready to embrace new, innovative ways of accessing their healthcare. But they're going to need a little push to gain full awareness of new conveniences available to them. This will be good not only for healthcare consumers. It will also be efficient in terms of time and resources for the healthcare systems that adopt the latest consumer conveniences and promote them throughout their communities.
Pandemics are always a terrible cause of human misery. Our single silver lining from any widespread disease is the innovations discovered on the road to recovery. In their recent report titled "Digital Transformation" the American Hospital Association began by noting:
The shift toward participatory health is changing the bedrock of the health system from a supply-side push of services out to the consumer, to one in which the pull of consumer demand determines value and activity. The "how" of health care is changing fast. The successful health system of tomorrow will bring about participatory health by being on-demand, connected and data-driven.
For healthcare systems nationwide, the Coronavirus may have brought us tomorrow early.