CVS study: How the pandemic is boosting healthcare consumerism

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed people to embrace new avenues of care, and take greater control of their own health, according to a new study from CVS Health.

The healthcare giant released its latest Health Care Insights Study, which polls 1,000 adults and 400 providers, and found 77% of people said the pandemic led them to pay more attention to their health overall.

In addition, 50% said they felt stay-at-home orders under the pandemic helped them achieve their health goals.

Daniel Knecht, M.D., vice president of clinical products at CVS Health, told Fierce Healthcare that the pandemic shined a spotlight on the impact of chronic conditions like obesity, as they put people at greater risk from the virus, which drove patients to be thinking more about their health goals.

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"The pandemic really shined a bright glaring light on those issues," Knecht said, "and it also raised the importance of better managing whole health."

The study found that patients, particularly younger people, are moving away from more traditional avenues of care, such as primary care. Routine care from primary care providers decreased from 62% in 2020 to 56%.

In tandem, interest in alternatives grew. In 2020, 12% of people reported using online resources for care, which increased to 19% in 2021. Use of community health centers also reached 19%, up from 15% last year.

More people also visited local pharmacies for care, according to the study. Seventeen percent reported seeking out routine care at their pharmacy, up from 11% in 2020.

People aged 18 to 34 were the least trusting of primary care providers and were the most likely to shop around for healthcare services. More than a third (39%) said they are more open to taking recommendations from pharmacists, nurse practitioners, nursing assistants and physician assistants at a healthcare facility.

Knecht said the industry has an opportunity to tailor the patient experience to meet the expectations of millennials and Gen Zers, but it can't forget that there are still large populations who value and expect a more traditional, in-person primary care provider experience.

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Nearly two-thirds of people aged 51 to 64 (64%) and people over 65 (65%) said they have high levels of trust in their primary care provider. People aged 51 to 64 were also the least likely to shop around for care, with just 5% saying they do so.

Only 6% of those aged 65 and over shop around for care, the study found.

"How do we meet those folks in a way that resonates with them?" Knecht said.

The study also highlighted the massive spike in telehealth use under the pandemic, which plays into the greater patient interest in alternative avenues of care. More than half (57%) of those surveyed said they had a virtual visit with their doctor in the last year due to COVID-19.

More than two-thirds (68%) said they would consider a virtual visit in the future for care that did not require a physical exam. Seventy-five percent said it is important to them to use digital tools to monitor their care, up from 70% in 2020.

Knecht said he doesn't see this trend going away anytime soon, though as a practicing physician himself he does see areas where telehealth isn't ideal.

"Telehealth is here to stay as one of the many access points to healthcare," he said. "I think there's certainly an important role of in-person care."