The impact of Covid-19: Changing consumer preferences towards health care services

August 27, 2020 3:19 PM

Consumers are displaying a significant shift in their health care seeking behavior. Deloitte undertook a consumer survey across 400 plus respondents across gender, age groups, and geographies and we came across some interesting insights.

According to the responses, 94 per cent of respondents had concerns about visiting a hospital during the lockdown. (Representative image)

By Anupama Joshi and Dr. Ankita Gulati

COVID 19 has been unprecedented in its ramifications, bringing the world to almost a grinding halt in its wake. As a result, the world is being seen as waking up to an increasingly digital, contactless and virtual way of functioning. The healthcare industry has also had to adapt itself to respond to the need of the hour. It has had to gear up to provide care to COVID /non- COVID patients while prioritizing the safety of its frontline workers under very onerous environments. On the other hand, it is facing the headwinds of changing consumer preferences which it cannot ignore.

Consumers are displaying a significant shift in their health care seeking behavior. Deloitte undertook a consumer survey across 400 plus respondents across gender, age groups, and geographies and we came across some interesting insights.

According to the responses, 94 per cent of respondents had concerns about visiting a hospital during the lockdown. Survey respondents expressed the need for multiple safety protocols to be followed at the healthcare facility. Consumers’ perception of adherence to protocols is now seen to be shaping their preference on type of facilities to visit. Around 65 per cent respondents who were previously visiting nursing homes expressed their preference to visit large hospital chains based on their perception of COVID -19 safety protocol compliance at these facilities.

Secondly, respondents displayed a clear preference to avail healthcare services at home across the healthcare continuum – consultation, diagnostics, in-patient care, delivery of medicines. As consumers began exploring alternate platforms of receiving care, telemedicine emerged as a clear choice. Government’s release of telemedicine guidelines and medical practitioners reducing resistance to virtual consultation seem to have helped accelerate the adoption of tele consults. The user base for telemedicine has more than doubled during the lockdown from 21 per cent to 44 per cent of survey respondents (including first time users). Various telemedicine platforms have also reported a rapid uptake of online consultations across multiple specialties ranging from general medicine, dermatology and gynaecology to mental health.

All major healthcare players rapidly set-up and/or enhanced their telemedicine capabilities during COVID-19 lock-down phase through partnership with various start-ups/ technology providers. Many state public healthcare systems also developed and began offering telemedicine services. Virtual consults are expected to continue even in a post COVID world, driven by rising preference for more convenient time saving methods, as indicated by 77 per cent of consumers surveyed. According to some industry experts tele-consults may constitute upto 30% of OPD consults post lockdown even though virtual consults are expected to complement in-person consult and not act as a substitute in the long run.

Consumer receptiveness towards at-home post-procedure care also appears to have increased. Home care has received a fillip during COVID 19 with various hospitals starting their own home healthcare service or tying up with established home healthcare players for continuing care beyond the four walls of the hospital. Between 36 to 54 per cent respondents indicated willingness to purchase discounted medical subscription for various services to be availed at home. In keeping with this emerging trend, providers are now toying with the idea of offering subscription based customized packages to manage care (including for chronic patients who need regular care management).

Similar preference is observed for availing diagnostic tests, as private labs set up accelerated home collection for various diagnostic tests (including for COVID testing) as well as drive-through COVID-19 testing centers. An overwhelming majority of those surveyed indicated preference for home sample collection (74 per cent respondents) and drive-through testing (46 per cent respondents) over collection in labs / hospitals. Industry players have started re- thinking their business models, to strike the right balance between need for brick and mortar collection centers versus sampling on wheels and associated staff deployment.

One of the latest trends in the sector is the investment and M&A activity in e-pharmacy space. Rising consumer adoption of digital tools for availing healthcare products and services has led to a boom in revenues of e-pharmacy companies with unprecedented growth during this complete/ partial lockdown phase. The business opportunity in this space and its future scalability is validated by the acquisitions and announcement of e-pharmacy plans by large corporations like Reliance and Amazon and there is an expectation of further consolidation in this space.

In short, traditional healthcare business models are getting disrupted. The healthcare of the future envisages a more aware and digital savvy customer and business models that serve them closer home and in settings of their convenience. Digital marketing to the customer and a seamless experience across the continuum is expected to result in greater customer stickiness. Healthcare providers who are agile and are able to make this leap alone or in partnership with other traditional and non-traditional players are likely to see better growth prospects.

(The Authors: Anupama Joshi is Partner, Deloitte India and Dr. Ankita Gulati is Manager, Deloitte India. Views expressed are personal.)

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