How has COVID-19 shifted patient behavior? How have patients changed how they consume healthcare? Below, explore the trends that will make 2021 the year of patient controlled health.

It’s been almost a year since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the United States. In just one year, the healthcare industry channeled a decade of work into a sprint—a sprint that is still underway.

In March, the realities of a global scale health event quickly sunk in, and our lack of preparedness to address it rapidly came to the forefront. Hospitals were overrun, quickly reaching full capacity in many areas across the country. Tests weren’t available. Elective procedures were cancelled. Patients were isolated. There was rampant confusion about what people should do to try to prevent the spread. There were myriad unknowns about the epidemiology of the disease—its transmission, its severity, and how contagious it is.

Fast Forward 10 Months

Our hospitals, while still experiencing surges and strains on capacity, have implemented new strategies to respond to the pandemic. Tests are available across most states. Elective procedures are once again on the calendar. The epidemiology of the disease is much more understood. There’s not one, but two, vaccines available, and more under development. We have hope.

Eventually, we slowly will find a “post pandemic normal,” a reality shaped by the changes and learnings of the last year and most significantly, the vaccine. To me, one learning is certain and profound—COVID-19 accelerated the trajectory of patient controlled health, shifting health systems away from fragmented care and towards integrated care models.

The events of the last year have shaped patient behavior. People are now focused on how they can protect themselves, and their families, from another virus surge or new threat. Given the need for social distancing, use of digital health tools such as telehealth and remote patient monitoring skyrocketed, bringing healthcare directly into patients homes. Patients became more data-driven and more focused on convenience of care.

COVID-19 is fundamentally changing how patients consume healthcare.

The Empowered, Discerning Patient

The NRS recently released their 2021 Healthcare Consumer Trends Report,  which surveyed over 2 million Americans against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A key finding highlights how significantly and quickly COVID-19 has changed patient behavior.  In the report, Helen Hrdy, NRC Health Chief Growth Officer states, “for years, consumers have made consistent appeals for autonomy, convenience, and freedom of choice...COVID-19 has brought some of these consumerist-driven measures to the forefront. While healthcare leaders have proven they can be nimble and adaptable, even in the face of crisis, consumers want a partnership with their providers and a care experience that exceeds their expectations moving forward."

Patient scale

2021 Predictions

What will make 2021 the year of patient controlled health?

1. Patients will favor convenience and provider rapport

In 2021, patients will choose the provider that works best for them. Patients are less loyal to healthcare organizations than they have been in previous years, prioritizing convenience and their feelings about the providers over the health system brand. Into 2021, the patient will decide which provider they see, based on convenience of care (appointment availability, telemedicine offerings, geography), financial transparency, and provider rapport. 

2. Patients will be more involved in their healthcare decisions

Patients will be more data driven in making  their healthcare decisions,  taking advantage of unprecedented access to information to become more diligent and informed about their health. They will prioritize their own understanding of  their health and the data,  behind directions they receive from clinicians. In 2021, health decisions will not be dictated by, but rather made in consultation with, a healthcare provider, leveraging insights and data pulled from a variety of health technology tools  available at patients’ fingertips, such as  wearables, telehealth, RPM, and smart homes.

3. As the dust settles, patients will still use telehealth

For millions of Americans, the pandemic was their first  introduction to telehealth. In 2020, many patients found that they can receive the same level of care at home as they would at the hospital or outpatient clinic. Given the convenience and effectiveness that many patients associate with telehealth, it is unlikely that this practice will stop in 2021. Over the past year, patients experienced first hand  the value of using telehealth and other connected technologies for continuous care and many have mastered the technology. Now more than ever, the location of a provider is less relevant because patients can connect with providers  anywhere. For this reason, providers who utilize telehealth will be more sought after. 

4. Aging in place will be prioritized

COVID-19 contributed greatly to the isolation of older adults in the US and also brought attention to this challenging dynamic. Not only that, the pandemic  has highlighted the shortfalls of our housing and care systems for older adults with nearly 40% of COVID-related deaths in the US occurring in long-term care facilities. The virus has exposed just how essential home care is. The pandemic boosted the use of technology to socialize, bring goods into the home, and access telehealth. Surveys have found that a significant majority of aging adults want to remain in their homes as they age. The  pandemic demonstrated that with the right resources including telehealth, amenities, and safety precautions, this can be possible.

5. Patients will be more willing to self-manage their health

Patients are taking a greater interest in their care and are willing to self-manage. They feel more empowered when it comes to their health. Leveraging available health information, new technology, and telehealth, the empowered patient knows more, wants more and is able to do more for themselves.

In 2021 the focus will be on giving the power back to the patient. This year, providers will have to up their game to respond to the needs and wants of their patients. They will be required to focus on including the patient in decision making, providing alternatives to in person care, facilitating convenient care with technology, building rapport and trust, and bridging the gap between artificial intelligence and provider expertise.

Patients are not looking for authoritative relationships with providers. They want partnerships that respect their time, their judgment, and their goals, partnerships that deliver an excellent experience centered around patient understanding and autonomy.

It all boils down to 3 words - consumer-centric healthcare.