The COVID-19 pandemic was a nightmare for the healthcare industry. Even highly developed countries with efficient healthcare systems have struggled. Hospitals ran out of beds, healthcare workers were overworked, and many of them contracted the virus as well.
There’s a silver lining to the pandemic. It’s the people’s increased interest in their health. During the early days of the pandemic, the media was full of reminders about boosting one’s immune system. And since everyone was afraid of developing COVID-19, they tried to improve their lifestyles, particularly in the hygiene and sanitation department.
Reliable telemedicine systems became more widely used as well. Telemedicine, or more broadly, telehealth, is a healthcare service that allows patients to seek care through the phone or any mobile device. It provided a safe way for doctors and patients to interact during the pandemic.
Now that the vaccines have been rolled out, what would happen to telehealth, and how will the entire healthcare industry change?
Hospitalizations Will Drop
The vaccines will not end the pandemic just yet. But it will certainly decrease hospitalizations. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been proven to decrease hospitalizations by 94% among fully vaccinated adults aged 65 and above. On the other hand, partially vaccinated adults are 64% less likely to be hospitalized than their unvaccinated counterparts.
But people aged and 16 and above are all recommended to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Though the CDC assessment only showed decreased hospitalizations among senior adults, younger adults will get the same protection. The more people receive the shots, the more rooms and beds are freed up in hospitals. Furthermore, the faster an area reaches herd immunity.
Brand Loyalty May Fade
This is a little grim for healthcare brands, but the pandemic has made consumers prioritize provider relationships and convenience more than brand loyalty. But even before COVID-19, consumer loyalty is already a status many brands struggle to earn. In a 2020 survey, 36% of consumers said they have “no preference” for a particular healthcare brand. This fragile brand loyalty only intensified during the pandemic, with 45% of consumers admitting they’ve already switched to another brand. 62%, meanwhile, intend to make the switch before the pandemic ends.
Luckily, healthcare organizations are prepared for this. They already have what they need to win back their consumers’ trust. Seeing that consumers value convenience from their providers, healthcare organizations started improving their services’ speed and access.
Consumers May Get Sidetracked on Their Health
If many people willingly improved their health during the pandemic, many also got sidetracked and may continue to do so after the pandemic. Fear for COVID-19 exposure drove 36% of non-elderly Americans and 29% of American children to delay their healthcare. Other reasons include their providers limiting their services due to the risks.
Patients delaying their care can leave negative impacts on a healthcare facility’s revenue. This is why all healthcare providers, clinicians, and wellness practitioners should streamline their services to encourage people to stay on top of their health needs.
Telehealth Will Stabilize
In April 2020, telehealth experienced a spike of more than 32% due to an increased willingness of consumers to use the service. At that time, telehealth usage has stabilized at levels 38 times higher than pre-pandemic levels. Since then, usage levels have stabilized from 13% to 17% across all specialties.
Similarly, consumer and provider attitudes toward telehealth have improved since the pre-pandemic period. However, barriers — such as perceptions of technology security — still exist. Hence, hybrid virtual and in-person care might be optimized.
It’s also good news for telehealth innovation. Investment in virtual care and digital health has increased three times than it had in 2017. This will fuel more tech developments in telehealth.
Lastly, virtual healthcare models and business models are rapidly increasing. Hybrid virtual and in-person services may become more widely available, helping the telehealth sector boost consumer experience and affordability.
Patients Will Prefer Digital Channels
Of course, the reason telehealth services will improve is the patients’ growing preference for it. Wearable tech is one of the channels that encouraged more people to be interested in digital health services. More than 100 people own an Apple watch today. Hundreds of millions of similar devices have been sold since 2010. Free healthcare and wellness apps are also increasing, giving every smart device owner a chance to improve their health without spending a dime.
Technology has contributed a great deal in motivating people to care more for their health. But sadly, a pandemic had to happen before people actually took their health seriously. Thankfully, the vaccines have been rolling out pretty fast, and the U.S. is reaching herd immunity sooner than we all expected. The case may not be the same in other countries, but as long as the vaccines are available, the whole world can end this pandemic as soon as possible. By then, more people could already be invested in their healthcare.