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Patient Engagement Key to Healthcare Consumerism Post-Pandemic

Patients are ready to access healthcare as COVID-19 becomes endemic, with healthcare consumerism soon to be characterized by strong patient engagement.

The healthcare consumerism scales are tipping toward stronger patient engagement, with just under one in five patients saying they are more likely to book their annual wellness checks after the pandemic than they were before it, according to the 2022 Health Care Insights Survey from CVS Health.

These findings underscore the need for better patient-provider communication, more virtual and convenient care access options, and a careful eye for social determinants of health and other social factors impacting wellness.

"The pandemic changed nearly everything about our world—including the way many consumers view the importance of their health," CVS Health President and CEO Karen S. Lynch said publicly. "As we look to the future, CVS Health is uniquely positioned to reimagine health care that is centered around people—simpler, more accessible, and more affordable, with better health outcomes."

Although 2020 and 2021 were mostly characterized by decreased patient access to preventive screenings, 2022 and the post-pandemic future are looking like they’ll ring in an era of more patient care access. Patients are focusing on their overall wellness, and part of that is managing their own healthcare, particularly through patient access to primary and preventive care.

According to the CVS Health survey of about 1,000 patients nationwide, 17 percent of people are more likely to book their annual wellness checks now, in 2022, than they were before COVID-19 broke out. This signals new consumer attention to health and wellness and will herald demands for good patient-provider communication and convenient care access.

When they access care, patients want their providers to know a lot about them, heightening the demand for strong patient-provider communication. Four in five patients said it’s important for their providers to know about their stress levels and even their overall happiness with their life, while just under half wanted their providers to know about their wellness goals like losing weight, increasing physical activity levels, lowering stress, and eating a balanced diet.

This renewed attention to health is likely the result of COVID-19, the researchers added; 22 percent the pandemic led them to care more about their health than ever before, and 44 percent said they adopted new lifestyle habits in response to the pandemic.

Ensuring clinicians understand these priorities will require strong patient-provider communication, patients said, but clinicians noted robust communication is still out of reach. A majority of provider respondents (88 percent) said they still don’t have enough time for strong patient engagement and communication.

That sets up a sticky situation, as patients continue to appreciate the impact non-clinical factors—ranging from social determinants of health to the political climate—have on their physical and mental health. Patients and providers alike will need new modalities to support communication and interactions that fully support all patient needs and the patient-provider relationship.

Some of that support will come in the form of virtual care, a care access medium for which support has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sixty-two percent of consumers told CVS Health that they are likely to use virtual care if they know they do not need an in-person appointment.

That’s because patients value convenience above all other healthcare factors, 92 percent of respondents told CVS Health. Virtual visits add that layer of convenience, respondents continued, because it helped them circumvent issues with travel. Forty-one percent of patients said they liked telehealth because they did not need to leave home, 37 percent because they did not incur transportation costs, and 37 percent because they saved time.

Clinician offices are responding in kind, with 54 percent adding virtual visit capabilities, 42 percent offering a patient portal, and 43 percent adding a patient-facing mobile app. These investments are also paying dividends; 93 percent of providers said telehealth made more people book visits and 88 percent actually attend those visits, staving off costly patient no-shows.

Virtual care has been particularly beneficial in the mental health space, where stigma, a dearth of providers, and high costs often deter patient care access. Nearly half (48 percent) of patients said they’d be more likely to book a mental health appointment using telehealth, with 71 percent citing convenience and 57 percent mentioning privacy.

But even beyond telehealth appointments, virtual care options are becoming foundational to the patient experience. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they’d like to monitor their own health with a digital app or wearable, while many others said digital tools to maintain patient-provider communication like virtual patient outreach would be good.

A whopping 83 percent of consumers said they want access to text message appointment reminders, 79 percent want digital prescription refill reminders, 78 percent want reminders about their annual wellness checks, and 75 percent want reminders about annual screenings.

But driving patient engagement post-pandemic will require more than just increased communication about health and wellness; patients are increasingly becoming aware of the link between social determinants of health and their health outcomes. Patients are looking at factors like sleep quality (48 percent), fitness goals (41 percent), and nutrition levels (39 percent).

Moreover, they are concerned about the impact social isolation is having on their health. Forty-four percent of respondents said they are not as socially connected as they were before the pandemic, although 34 percent acknowledged they have a strong social circle. About three-quarters of patients said they’re happy with their support system and around half said they have someone to call in an emergency.

The good news is that patients are primed to have these conversations with their providers, something that was a pretty big hurdle just a few years ago. It is crucial that providers establish strong trust with their patients before discussing social determinants of health, and that trust is budding, the survey showed.

And it’s not just communication regarding SDOH that will benefit from that trust; patients are viewing their primary care providers as the center of their wellness and reporting strong trust in them. Although trust in providers was high before the pandemic, around a quarter of patients said they trust their clinicians now more than ever

Patients said they trust in the quality of care their clinicians deliver, as well as the priority their clinicians place on overall, holistic wellness. That trust extends to all members of the care team, including pharmacists and nurses.

Healthcare providers should capitalize on that increased patient trust as the medical industry moves into a new, post-pandemic landscape. Patients are interested in engaging in their care with a new sense of urgency for overall wellness. As patients demand stronger engagement, providers need to ensure they have the skills and tools to communicate with patients and support their overall health and wellness.

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