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Four trends facing the healthcare industry post-pandemic

This article was posted at Forbes.com, featuring Helen Hrdy.

Helen leads multiple departments as Chief Growth Officer at NRC Health to support its holistic approach to patient-provider connection.


Long before a global pandemic forever changed the course of healthcare, the status quo in care delivery was becoming increasingly unsustainable. Out of sheer need, many of the changes long anticipated for the industry arrived faster and more intensely than anyone expected in response to Covid-19, including the rapid shift to telehealth. While it’s still yet to be seen whether some of these changes prove permanent, the following trends will continue to shape the future of healthcare in a post-pandemic world.

Brand loyalty fades as healthcare consumers prioritize provider relationships, convenience.

Consumer loyalty remains a status to be earned by health care systems and a paramount focus – after all, it’s a major profitability driver. Many organizations, however, struggle to achieve it, especially as consumers’ indifference to brands has grown. In a 2020 survey conducted by the company where I serve as chief growth officer, 36% of consumers cited ‘no preference’ for a particular healthcare brand. That is when compared against independent practitioners. This is a 5% increase from 2018.

Unsurprisingly, Covid-19 has only intensified this trend, with 45% of consumers saying they’ve already jumped to another healthcare brand, while 62% intend to make the switch before the pandemic ends.

Despite these seemingly alarming numbers, there’s some good news for healthcare organizations – they already have what they need to gain back consumer trust.

We know that consumers love their providers and that fondness has only grown since the pandemic began. This indicates that many healthcare organizations already meet – if not exceed – patient satisfaction. To tap into that inherent provider trust and welcome patients back, healthcare company leaders should look to convenience in both speed and access, key factors in consumers’ healthcare decision-making.

Consumers are less actively engaged in their health.

Prior to Covid-19, care deferment rates were declining. However, data from the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation revealed that nearly 36% of nonelderly U.S. adults and 29% of U.S. children have delayed or deferred healthcare altogether due to fear of Covid-19 exposure, or because providers were forced to limit their services through the pandemic.

Delaying care opens the potential for repercussions, including negative impacts on short-term hospital revenue streams and more far-reaching serious outcomes for healthcare consumers long-term.

Finally having its day, telehealth may circumvent further deferment – but will the shift last?

On the fringe of widespread adoption before Covid-19, telehealth exploded during the pandemic. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a 154% increase in telehealth visits in the last week of March 2020, compared with the same week in 2019. Research from McKinsey & Company found that more than 46% of consumers now regularly use telehealth, up from 11% in 2019. As telehealth quickly transitioned from an optional means of care delivery to an outright necessity to accommodate social distancing protocols and ensure patient and provider safety, healthcare organizations across the country and the world have rushed to scale up their virtual care programs. Despite its swift adoption, however, the jury is still out on whether it will remain a key part of healthcare delivery after the pandemic subsides.

But even as virtual care helps to solve one of healthcare’s biggest challenges – access to care – providers need to be mindful of its potential to widen the health disparities gap. While consumers don’t have to make a commute, secure childcare or leave work early for virtual care appointments, they are required to have a stable internet connection and a quiet, private place to take an appointment. As of March 2020, the Federal Communications Commission estimated that 21 million Americans still lack access to broadband internet. The reality is, people are still working for their survival right now, and that comes out along the lines of income and financial stability, as well as race and ethnicity. These and other health disparities need to be thoughtfully addressed in telehealth sooner than later, or the healthcare industry runs the risk of further widening the disparities gap.

Patients’ preference for digital channels grows, highlighting an opportunity for providers.

Alongside the surge in telehealth, consumers have shown an increasing preference for using digital channels to seek out healthcare information and manage their health and wellness – even as these innovations are still underutilized by healthcare providers.

Take wearable tech. More than 100 million people have an Apple Watch today. Since 2010, Fitbit has sold more than 105 million devices. These and other tools have become ubiquitous in our everyday lives, sharing important daily health data points. Yet the majority of providers haven’t fully realized how to tap into this information in the care setting.

Social networks have also become an important health resource for consumers, and not just for millennials. According to a study from the Journal of Medical Internet Research, nearly 90% of baby boomers and adults over the age of 67 have used social media for sourcing and sharing health information.

As consumers increasingly turn to digital avenues for their health, it’s high time that provider organizations learn to better utilize these channels to reach consumers, and ultimately retain their loyalty.

So, how does the industry move forward?

As challenging and painful as the pandemic has been, it’s also shined a light on just how necessary consumer-driven improvements and a better patient experience are for the continued growth and success of hospitals and health systems. Healthcare organizations have shown they can be flexible in tumultuous times. Consumers have shown that respect for their providers doesn’t wane during a crisis. To capitalize on this goodwill and ensure that pandemic-induced challenges are in the rearview, now is the time for healthcare leaders to listen to what their consumers want and deliver on their expectations. Armed with patient data, those provider organizations that are ready and waiting with compassion and empathy will be ready to meet the challenge.