How do we expand from here?

It is now common knowledge that COVID-19 has forced doctors, hospitals and other providers to move rapidly to virtual healthcare, minimizing human contact to sustain health services. What is less known is that the move to virtual health services could have happened long before the pandemic if providers and policy makers had listened to consumers.

According to Accenture´s poll of nearly 8,000 consumers in seven countries in late 2019, most respondents were interested in virtual health services before COVID-19—but their wants were not heard and the use of virtual health services did not significantly materialize before the pandemic. The obvious question: why not? The answer is that key stakeholder groups in the healthcare system were unprepared for virtual care. During COVID-19, the system was forced to deploy virtual care overnight and rigid obstacles were overcome or simply dissolved. That´s history.

Now virtual care is at another fork in the road, where it must either remain an event, or become healthcare’s sustained new direction. Consumers want the latter. In fact, in another related survey 60 percent of respondents said that their pandemic virtual health experience meant they want to increase their use of technology to communicate with healthcare providers and manage their conditions into the future. The next question is, if consumers want permanent virtualization, how extensive should it be?

Now that healthcare has gone virtual, how far should it go?

Is it just general health advisory and mental health services that can be done over phone and video, or should diagnostics (or even therapy) be done remotely? Consumers have spoken. If given the choice, almost two-thirds (59 percent) said they would choose remote health monitoring and advisory services over in-person. Almost half of them (44 percent) said they would choose virtual medical appointments, even for specialist needs, and even for acute care, instead of in-person consults. More than a third (38 percent) want online diagnosis, knowing this may not be easy to do remotely (see figure below). Consumers distinguish between two categories of care that tend to drive what form of care they’d prefer:

  • The more general, permanent and intimate healthcare needs are, the more consumers want to receive services virtually. Health and wellness advisories and routine appointments are examples for general needs. For chronically ill consumers with permanent support needs, remote monitoring of ongoing issues is a big relief as in-person visit frequency can be lowered. Virtual mental healthcare is favored by consumers for intimacy and confidentiality reasons—a trend that was confirmed also by our latest research.
  • The more complex, diagnosis-intense and acute the healthcare service need is, the less attractive the virtual option. People are aware that some areas of healthcare remain difficult to virtualize (e.g. a physical examination), though not impossible with in-home consumer medical devices becoming available. Appointments with medical specialists for diagnosis or acute care requiring physical treatment and surgery are areas were virtual options end from a consumer perspective.
Consumers’ virtual health views are aligned across time and geography

These trends hold true over time, aligning with previous multi-country surveys. They are also pretty consistent across the seven industrialized countries in scope of our survey regardless of divergent healthcare systems, healthcare traditions and cultural attitudes to in-person contact. Bottom line: peoples' interest in virtual health services was always strong but did not materialize until COVID-19 hit. Now healthcare systems have an unprecedented opportunity to permanently shift the default care model to virtual services for many medical needs.

At Accenture, we are committed to enabling this shift—from the back office to the doctor´s office, building Health´s NewFUTURE. It’s vital that pandemic-related digital healthcare adoption be sustained. We´ll be detailing the “how” in an upcoming CES 2021 panel discussion. Please RSVP to attend and learn more.

Kaveh Safavi

Senior Managing Director – Consulting, Global Health

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