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How astounding pandemic stress has affected parenting and healthy choices for children

NRC Health Consumer Expert Ryan Donohue says healthcare is the highest expectation of consumers after banks, restaurants, hotels, and transportation—and the rate keeps going up each year. Because of safety aspects and cost, the demand in the healthcare industry is sky-high. 

“In most industries, if they get things wrong, you will probably be okay,” Donohue says. “If you get things wrong in healthcare, there are no second chances. I think sometimes we lose sight of that.”

During the recent NRC Health 2022 Pediatric Collaborative, Donohue, Strategic Advisor at NRC Health, explained that overwhelming pandemic stress has greatly affected parenting and subsequently, healthy choices for children. Consider these trends:

The rate at which parents are resuming services has risen by 135% from 2020 to 2021, with the largest increases being in urgent care (170%), emergency (158%), inpatient services (143%), outpatient services (139%), and medical practice (128%). However, among the return to pediatric care experiences, 13% of parents are unsure of when to resume healthcare activities—and 5.5% say they will not return to healthcare, period. Parents deferring care for children has dropped in recent months, from 11.6% in Q4 2021 to 12.3% in Q4 2020. Donohue says that 43% cite COVID-19 as a major impact on their decision to delay care.  

Affordability plays a large role too. “The other thing that we see from parents who put off care is that they’re more likely to come in through the most expensive door in the whole place,” Donohue says. “What really kills me is that those are often the most concerned about the financial impact, and now they’ve just booked the penthouse suite, and they don’t even know it.” 

Half of consumers feel a significant burden paying for care, and half feel it’s important to receive a single bill. Almost 90% of consumers incur difficulty trying to understand healthcare bills, and many dissatisfied patients describe paying for their care as one of the worst parts of the experience. 

Donohue jokes, “If one CEO somewhere could just hold up the single bill, it would be the closest thing to seeing the face of God that we would have in healthcare.” 

Diving deeper into resuming pediatric care experiences, most unvaccinated people are in the groups of parents with children without vaccination. Thirty-five percent of parents with unvaccinated children in their household want the pediatric vaccination ASAP, while 34% will wait because of uncertainty. Parents are less likely to be vaccinated among the 18-to-44-year-old age groups, with 43% without children being fully vaccinated and 27% with children being fully vaccinated. 

“If parents are not getting vaccinated, they’re not in a rush to get their children vaccinated either,” Donohue says. “It’s a little preview of the parent-child bond. It can work in positive ways, and maybe in negative ways too.” 

The pandemic brought on new stressors, not only for parents, but for children too. While one in three consumers reports that their mental health has worsened due to the pandemic, the issue has also been exacerbated for children. Children’s mental-health hospitalizations increased by 163% from 2020 to 2021, and NRC Health Real-time feedback found that emergency-department visits for suspected suicide attempts were 4% higher among adolescent boys and 51% higher among adolescent girls from 2019 to 2021. Psychiatric visits had increased by 31% for young people over the same period. 

 Donohue believes the parent-child bond was pressured in unimaginable ways during the pandemic, but it also created new ways to bond and stay together through difficulty. One way hospitals can better position themselves now and in the future is by ensuring a great digital experience, as consumers’ visits to pediatric-hospital websites increased from 36% to 41%. 

Donohue will be giving a webinar based on his presentation from the event, The pandemic parents: A portrait of shifting priorities in raising kids, register here.