Engaging the Digitally Inclined Healthcare Consumer
Recent research from Huron indicates how consumers are interacting with healthcare differently than they did before the coronavirus pandemic. For years, consumers have been forcing shifts in how healthcare is delivered. Now, consumer preferences for where and how they receive care and communicate with providers are even more pointed.
In 2019, Huron research identified five distinct healthcare consumer segments, including the digitally inclined consumer, which accounted for 17% of respondents. In 2021, follow-up research illustrates which trends may have changed because of the coronavirus pandemic, and which remain the same.
Notably, the size of the digitally inclined consumer segment grew by 25% from 2019 to 2021, the most growth in any segment.
Not only did Huron’s research show the growth of a consumer segment that is driven by digital interactions, but all consumer segments are more interested in their digital health experiences. This growth underscores the urgency for healthcare organizations to continue to invest in their digital health to drive patient satisfaction and brand loyalty.
Who Is the Digitally Inclined Healthcare Consumer?
The digitally inclined consumer segment represents 21% of healthcare consumers surveyed by Huron. This consumer segment is not only the youngest, with 84% of the population between the ages of 18 and 44, but also the fastest growing. Considering the segment’s age and rate of growth, the digitally inclined consumer may provide valuable insights into the future of healthcare.
+25% growth in digitally inclined segment from 2019 to 2021
Perhaps more importantly, the majority of survey respondents across all demographics report being digitally active and fluent, indicating a readiness for increased digital healthcare. Identifying the size of an organization’s digitally inclined population and the overall digital readiness of its consumer population will be critical for organizations making strategic investments in how and where they deliver care in the next five years and beyond.
What Does the Digitally Inclined Consumer Value?
Overall, healthcare consumers are seeking ways to take a more active role in their own health. For example, consumers’ overwhelming desire for a single point of contact for their healthcare information held steady from 2019 to 2021.
75% of consumers want a single point of contact for their healthcare information
Digitally inclined consumers value online quality ratings, reviews and comparison tools to guide their healthcare decisions. Moreover, support for mobile apps remains strong across all consumer segments, with 52% of consumers interested in apps for healthcare needs such as scheduling appointments, asking questions, finding new physicians and checking results.
Not surprisingly, consumers are now prioritizing the availability of telehealth and virtual care. At the height of the pandemic, it was critical for organizations to deliver a technology-enabled experience that limited unnecessary risk of exposure to win consumer loyalty. As a result, in 2021, 60% of all consumers surveyed by Huron participated in a telehealth visit, and 72% of those consumers were satisfied or very satisfied with their telehealth experience.
The research also shows a 15% increase in consumers viewing virtual care as a primary care option and not just a supplement to in-person care. Even as the industry emerges from the pandemic, consumers will continue to expect a convenient, technology-enabled experience.
Engaging Digitally Inclined Consumers
As the digital transformation of healthcare accelerates, it will be essential to have flexible models that engage consumers differently in a growing and broad digital landscape.
Identify your consumers’ preferences: Healthcare leaders should strive to create a multidimensional view of their consumer base to understand their health goals, how they make their healthcare decisions and what they value in their healthcare experiences. Comprehensive consumer insights and analysis will aid leaders in creating a view that extends beyond clinical or financial information. From there, leaders can better identify which specific tools will enable a positive consumer experience, keeping in mind the solution may not be the same for every consumer.
Make care more convenient: By communicating through digital tools, healthcare organizations are delivering information in the way digitally inclined consumers most prefer. This builds trust — another foundational element of any strong relationship — since digitally inclined consumers are more likely to trust and interact with providers who communicate digitally. Convenience must encompass the end-to-end experience, including using digital tools to reduce wait times and improve access.
Empower consumers to take charge of their healthcare: While the digitally inclined consumer segment grew, Huron’s research finds increased readiness for digital tools across all segments, providing avenues to improve care for all consumers. For example, 43% of respondents and their families chose to postpone or cancel care appointments over the last 12 months. The expansion of digital tools, telehealth and virtual care will continue to play a role in driving patient volume and alleviating some canceled or deferred services and appointments.
Personalize the consumer experience: Huron’s research finds that consumers are looking for specific digital options that will provide deeper personalization of their care experience and treatment plans. Wearables, for example, continue to represent a significant opportunity for organizations to engage consumers. Huron’s research finds that of those who use a wearable (more than one-third of respondents), 39% report sharing health-related data from their wearable device with providers as part of a treatment plan, up from 31% in 2019. Another 48% of wearable users would be willing to share their data.
Healthcare organizations can use consumer health data to better engage patients and their caregivers, ultimately driving better clinical outcomes. With more on-demand consumer data, clinicians can build care plans that align more specifically to individual health goals and potentially address the nonmedical factors or social determinants of health (SDOH) impacting patients. This could be as simple as making consumers aware of relevant healthcare services such as telehealth options or nutrition programs.
Maintain a focus on data security: Although the digitally inclined are more willing than other consumers to share their health data, they still need the same level of data privacy and security. Healthcare organizations will need to be transparent regarding how that data is being used and what the organization is doing to ensure consumers’ information is protected.
Consumer demands are driving the need for high-quality care that accounts for consumer interest in digital services as well as their increased concerns for risk and safety. By understanding the digitally inclined consumer and effectively engaging them, healthcare organizations can satisfy both preference and practicality.