The COVID-19 pandemic continues its deadly and disruptive course in the United States, where at the time of writing, most of the country is considered to be in out-of-control spread. However, while the pandemic’s toll on consumer’s lives is both ongoing and severe, one bright spot in the response has been in the areas of Virtual Healthcare and Telemedicine.
Benefiting from the forced adjustments brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual healthcare visits exploded in 2020, skyrocketing past previous levels. As overwhelmed hospitals and clinics focused their attention on the pandemic and consumers avoided what they perceived to be high-risk locations for contracting the virus, the coronavirus effectively closed off many healthcare providers to non-COVID-19 patients.
Furthermore, the federal government reduced a major cost barrier for telemedicine adoption by physician practices when it declared that Medicare and Medicaid would pay the same rates for virtual visits as in-office appointments. The government also temporarily eased regulations to allow the use of patients’ mobile devices for virtual visits. These shifts were echoed by state governments, which eased licensing regulations so supply could meet demand.
The incredible rise of virtual care visits may have been driven by extraordinary circumstances, but this shift in healthcare-access norms will outlast the present pandemic. According to a recent report by Doximity, medical spend in telemedicine is forecast to increase from $29 billion in 2020 to $106 billion by 2023. This means the time is now for providers and platforms to start thinking longer term about how they can expand on initial COVID-19-driven successes to solidify next-level virtual care.
Consumers who have utilized virtual care options say that their experience was very positive. In fact, of those consumers surveyed, 76% were either satisfied or very satisfied and only 8% were dissatisfied to some degree with their virtual care experience. These numbers are even more favorable among Millennial consumers, with 79% of the cohort expressing satisfaction. And the convenience of virtual care is a big reason for the positive response. Overall, convenience was the second-most-cited rationale for choosing virtual care (behind COVID-19-related closures and fears).
Those on the outside looking in, however, still perceive myriad barriers to adoption, from a belief that virtual care is impersonal to concerns over diminished quality of care. This skepticism runs deepest among rural consumers, lower-income consumers and older consumers. In fact, 41% of Boomers in a May quantitative survey said they weren’t interested in trying virtual care. In addition to treatment quality concerns, fears related to data privacy and technology failures are also perceived barriers for consumers, with nearly half of consumers citing data privacy as a major concern.
Healthcare marketers will be charged with foregrounding the most resonant elements of virtual care for current patients while also attempting to broaden its appeal to a wider set of consumers still wary of virtual healthcare. Virtual care may also be undercut by consumers’ preexisting perceptions of healthcare, such as comfort in navigating systems, confidence in the patient-centered nature of care, and trust in security and technology.
For healthcare marketers interested in (or tasked with) expanding the appeal and use of virtual care offerings, the take-aways are threefold:
Focus retention marketing for existing virtual care patients on convenience, added functionality of treatment offerings and covered ailments.
In both mass marketing and targeted in-system marketing to first-time or non-virtual-care patients, focus messaging on the quality of care; ease of use; and personal, more intimate interactions with healthcare professionals that virtual care can provide. It’s also important to underscore the technical and digital safeguards that are in place to protect patient confidentiality.
In mass marketing and targeted out-of-system marketing to non-virtual-care patients, wrap messaging around values aimed at proactively building trust and confidence in the levels of care and in the system overall. Do this especially for underserved or underinsured communities, where mistrust of medical professionals is more common.
For more, check out:
How to Leverage the Momentum Behind Virtual Care and Expand Its Appeal to a Broader Patient Base (subscription required)
Consumer Outlook: Healthcare in 2021 (subscription required)