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New report unveils NRC Health’s 2022 health predictions on shifting consumer behavior

Today, NRC Health, the leading provider of in-depth customer intelligence in healthcare, released its 2022 Healthcare Consumer Trends Report. For its latest and fourth-annual industry review, NRC Health surveyed millions of healthcare consumers against the backdrop of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The report highlights consumers’ evolving preferences and behaviors related to crucial healthcare trends, and offers insight into how provider organizations can recapture patient volumes in 2022.

While consumers are returning in record numbers, and healthcare recall and telehealth usage are growing, health systems must grapple with how to best treat mental health and demonstrate an understanding of patients’ unique needs in order to build trust.

“Healthcare leaders must move the industry forward by building consumer trust and ensuring that human understanding is part of every care experience,” says Helen Hrdy, Chief Growth Officer at NRC Health. “It is imperative that healthcare systems and hospitals make significant progress in treating the population’s mental health, as the numbers are far too staggering to accept, especially for groups where determinants of poor mental health are exacerbated.”

Here are a few insights you’ll find in NRC Health’s 2022 Healthcare Consumer Trends Report.

Healthcare deferment has decreased and preventative care has suffered, but consumers are returning in record numbers

NRC Health data shows that healthcare deferment is decreasing, and consumers are resuming services. However, healthcare systems should be mindful that some of the consumers who re-emerge could be sicker and costlier in 2022 than they have been in years past.

While the COVID-19 pandemic caused many consumers to delay several types of care, preventative care was particularly affected, especially in conditions where infection rates for the COVID-19 virus can be most acute.

  • Blood pressure tests declined by a cumulative 5.5%, from 54.2% in Q1 2020 to 48.7% in Q4 2021
  • Routine physical exams declined by 4.7%, from 42.6% in Q1 2020 to 37.9% in Q4 2021
    BMI (Body Mass Index) screenings declined by 2.8%, from 14.0% in Q1 2020 to 11.2% in Q4 2021.

Consumer mental health is suffering

The pandemic has taken a significant toll on mental health, and one-third of consumers report that their mental health has worsened due to COVID-19.

Although telehealth usage has increased in counseling (206%), it is devastating to think that nearly one-third (30%) of consumers report that their mental health has worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, mental-health hospitalizations have increased by 190% from 2020 to 2021.

The increased frequency of symptoms of anxiety and depression noted in a CDC study indicates that mental-health services and resources, including telehealth behavioral services, are critical today—particularly among populations disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Telehealth is growing, but healthcare systems should focus on those service lines that work best with it

While telemedicine struggled with how reimbursement and logistics would work in years past, the widespread adoption of this technology has grabbed and is now holding consumer interest.

Consumers’ excitement for telehealth has hovered around 55% throughout the pandemic, compared to the pre-pandemic average of 49.3% in Q1 2020. Consumers 35 to 44 years old are the most excited about telehealth (68.1%), whereas people 65 and older are the least enthusiastic (45.2%).

Telehealth usage has increased in several provider specialties:

  • Thoracic/cardiothoracic vascular surgery (223%)
  • Social work (221%)
  • Counseling (206%)

Given that telehealth has more than doubled since 2020, healthcare systems should cultivate an effective and meaningful telehealth practice and consider digital health innovations. Healthcare systems should also prioritize provider time and attentiveness, along with financial transparency.

Consumer healthcare recall is growing, which means that health systems should advertise personalized care to promote services and provide resources

The good news for healthcare systems is, consumer healthcare recall is starting to climb, and healthcare systems can capitalize on this trend. NRC Health data from Market Insights recalling key performance indicators year-over-year find that marketing recall has increased by 5.1% from its lowest point of 59.4% in 2020, up to 64.5% in 2021.

Additionally, consumers report an increase in helpful health information from hospital websites (5.8%) between 2020 and 2021. The number of consumers who have visited a hospital website is also up 4.6% since November 2020—finding an all-time high of 31% of consumers having visited a hospital website as of November 2021.

This trend fuels digital healthcare efforts, providing healthcare systems with an abundance of data that can be used to personalize communications and deliver connected tools and data for consumers—essentially, giving them the information they want, when they want it. Digital healthcare can also automate everything from data entry to medicine distribution and research analysis, providing staff with the time and resources to give the best-personalized care possible to each consumer.

Health systems must demonstrate an understanding of each patient’s unique needs to show human understanding, which builds trust

Personalized healthcare experiences are slowly becoming the norm as consumers engage and share information with hospitals and practitioners, who then use that information to personalize experiences further. With personalization at the center of emerging healthcare, consumers will seek new levels of health and wellness—but only if healthcare organizations get it right.

Consumers’ likelihood to recommend hospitals and health systems has increased by 3.9 points from 20.2 in 2020 to 23.3 as of November 2021, while patient experience peaked during the onset of the pandemic—with Net Promoter Scores at 56 in April 2020 for hospital inpatients and emergency departments—but declining since, resulting in a Net Promoter score of 44 in December 2021. While consumers’ likelihood to recommend hospitals and health systems increases, patients’ likelihood to recommend hospitals decreases, indicating that overall, the healthcare experience is not meeting expectations.

The bottom line? Hospitals and health systems must make more of an effort to meet people where they are.

The NRC Health 2022 Healthcare Consumer Trends Report is based on the nation’s single most extensive database of healthcare consumers, with more than two million consumer voices from 300,000 American households, sourced from more than 580 healthcare organizations across all 50 states. The report is available for download here.