Beware the myth of seniors as compliant health consumers—"old-timers” who are averse to technology. Another common misconception is that all or most seniors will stay loyal to their physician, regardless. Our recent consumer survey flips that myth right on its head. Post-COVID, expectations could shift for the return-to-care experience, even among long-term loyalists. Seniors are demonstrating that providers and payers alike need to pivot and gain their loyalty through effective relationship building and hybrid in-person and virtual care.

18 million seniors have deferred care and are potentially up for grabs

Boomers are the rebel generation. The generation of Bruce Springsteen and Meryl Streep—they are aging into Medicare spenders. Seniors generally occupy over 50 percent of hospital bed days¹ although, for some, their healthcare service habits do match the myth. Many Boomers—18 percent—don't have a primary care provider, along with eight percent of the Silent Generation, so we know that seniors aren't fully committed to having or returning to a Primary Care Provider. These shifts upend post-COVID “return to care” standards.

Seniors report that their deferred healthcare is due to provider scheduling cancellations, postponed appointments and/or safety concerns. Almost 18 million seniors² have fallen through the resulting cracks. Half of those think their health condition has worsened, potentially leading to a tsunami of future demand.

More ready for virtual than being offered

The upside of the pandemic is the greater adoption of digital care. While pandemic restrictions shift, it is crucial to offer the right blend of virtual and traditional care and reclaim consumers in ways that suit them, while understanding how they perceive healthcare providers.

The senior consumer base is changing—these increasingly home-based consumers are hungry for virtual care. Despite 10 percent of seniors having already had a virtual visit, four times as many are ready for telehealth in the future. Not many are being given the option, though—approximately two in three seniors say they have not been offered a virtual consultation—and they really are serious about safety, even post-COVID.

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Risking a quarter of the senior patient base

Twenty six percent of seniors say they are willing to consider switching to providers who are more accessible, take good safety measures and offer effective in-person and virtual care. Now is the time to retain this important customer base with loyalty tactics—especially given cross-industry reports that companies with strong loyalty marketing grow revenues 2.5 times faster than competitors and generate 100-400 percent higher returns for shareholders (HBR). Here are three practical steps you can take:

  • Re-visit seniors who haven’t been seen or checked: Using analytics and outbound outreach, check on the seniors who have not been seen, heard from or checked in. This could start with courtesy checks from the primary care provider and supported by population health and available contact center check ins. Key outreach can help turn the tide of the 25 percent ready to switch. Given the essential nature of physician relationships and personal health; expanding the practice and brand is necessary to retain trust.
  • Reach out to the dispossessed: Since 50 percent of the seniors who deferred care feel their conditions have worsened, access and continuity from care providers and health systems will be essential. Proactive engagement can turn the tide of the upcoming disease tsunami and drive growth.
  • Systematically plan the senior re-engagement: Retaining a customer is five times cheaper than acquiring a new customer; functional and meaningful loyalty opens a set of transactions and broader connections than mere interactions. Loyalty programs are expanding to support intent to engage, trust, commitment and brand evangelism. What is provided to seniors now will be telling in the times of less pandemic fear and uncertainty. This is an opportunity to confidently leverage channels to reach and engage seniors—again and again.

Systemic change must accompany technology solutions

Reinventing healthcare to offer a blend of digital, telephonic and in-person care on personalized terms—in a language seniors understand—is the new must-do.  Defending your business against the defection of the 25 percent (and potentially winning other seniors) would enable a smooth return to care. It's a great time to become a seniors loyalty leader, retain (and grow) a crucial customer base.

¹The GAO of February 2020 shows that for 2017 nearly 54 percent of the hospital days are Medicare-driven. Age-related disease drives healthcare engagement for seniors.;

² Accenture COVID-19 Consumer Experience Study and Census.gov

Linda MacCracken

Director – Consulting, Health, North America

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