Digital adoption in healthcare: Reaction or revolution?
Harnessing technology and human ingenuity
Health and Life Sciences Experience Survey 2021 shows the healthcare experience is changing
The healthcare system showed resilience over this past year and remained accessible to many. In fact, the 2021 Accenture Health and Life Sciences Experience Survey of nearly 1,800 people in the United States revealed that 26% said their access to healthcare has been even better since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Digital adoption spiked overnight as providers had to quickly pivot to virtual care. However, we also learned that more than one quarter of survey respondents did not use any digital technologies to manage their health in the past year.
Growth in digital health adoption was stalling before COVID-19. But as we emerge from the pandemic, are we seeing a retreat from the gains that were achieved this past year, gains that led to greater access for many people? Our research identified four themes that illustrate key aspects of the experiences people are having with healthcare today: technology, experience, access and trust.
Rather than going about business as usual, healthcare organizations and pharmaceutical companies must combine the power of technology and human ingenuity to improve digital adoption.
Rising digital adoption in healthcare? Only in a few areas
It perhaps comes as no surprise that more people used digital technologies to manage their health this year. In early 2020, only 7% of people had a virtual consultation with a provider compared with a robust 32% this year. Nearly half (48%) say they have never had a virtual healthcare appointment. Thirty-nine percent of patients* with chronic diseases or current conditions had a virtual consultation in 2020. We also saw an increase in the use of electronic health records—with 31% using EHR this year (38% for our patient cohort). Remote patient monitoring tripled compared with our last pre-pandemic survey. Interestingly, 21% of those surveyed said they would be willing to participate in digital services or digital technologies.
However, digital adoption lagged in several areas: the use of mobile phone/tablet applications (for healthcare services) decreased significantly compared with previous years and the use of wearables stayed about the same. Far fewer people used social media and online support communities (for healthcare needs), which is surprising given the isolation many were facing.
As we learned in previous years, one reason why many people didn’t adopt digital is a lack of trust in technology companies to safeguard their healthcare information. This year, nearly half (43%) said they would not be willing to have a virtual care appointment with technology companies in the future. People would be more likely to adopt digital technologies if a provider recommended them (33%), if they felt more confident in data security and privacy (30%) and if these technologies enabled them to receive better information about their health (30%).
Negative experiences can have lasting consequences
Better experiences can improve engagement with the healthcare system. Our research revealed that only one out of three people (33%) said they did not have a negative experience. So what does that mean for the rest? People have had a variety of negative healthcare experiences including inefficient visits (22%) and getting unhelpful medical advice (19%).
Nearly half (44%) of the people reporting negative experiences felt stressed or upset. There were additional consequences: Slightly more than one-third switched providers or treatments (34%) or were less likely to seek medical care the next time they needed it. Others chose to not keep up with their treatment or never picked up their prescription. Only 12% of people said that the negative experience didn´t affect them in any way.
said the visit was not efficient
said the medical advice was not helpful
said they were surprised by the cost
said the staff were rude
said the treatment didn’t work
said they did not receive emotional support
People want to receive emotional support
When asked which factors were most important to creating a positive experience with a healthcare provider, people ranked “a medical provider who explains the patient’s condition and treatment clearly” (55%) as the most important factor with “a provider who listens, understands patient’s needs and provides emotional support” (52%) as a close second. The third-highest-rated aspect of a positive experience is well-coordinated communications and organization; 35% of people said it matters to them. Having a medical provider that shows empathy is significantly more important than a nice, clean office; and it is less than twice as important as nice and helpful staff.
said a medical provider who explains condition and treatment clearly is important for a positive experience.
said a medical provider who listens, understands their needs, and provides emotional support is important.
said well-coordinated care and communications between medical providers and their personnel is important.
Healthcare system access showed resilience
More than half of people we surveyed (51%) said there has been no change in their access to healthcare since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic—and 26% said their access has improved. However, 20% say their access is slightly or much worse.
better (slightly, much better)
worse (slightly, much worse)
Forty-one percent of Americans never had an affordability issue with medical care or medications. However, for those Americans who do experience affordability barriers, health outcomes are potentially affected. When people cannot afford the medical care or medications they need, they often delay (23%) or decline (17%) treatment or medication or skip an appointment with a medical provider (18%). When it comes to medications, they may decide to ration their prescription (15%) or treat their condition with an over-the-counter medication (26%).
The reaction to the affordability barrier varies across age groups. Millennials are more likely than other generations to take advantage of financial assistance such as rebates and non-profit services, and they are more likely to use digital therapeutics and digital technologies when they cannot afford healthcare, whereas Gen Xers are more likely to impact their treatment. Overall, only 14% of people who faced affordability problems ever used digital technologies for their healthcare. This suggests the cost-efficiency potential of many of these tools is yet untapped by the system.
Awareness of the risks & benefits of sharing data
Amid the rise of virtual care, a striking majority of people are considering whether they have the right to approve the collection and usage of their personal health information beyond their treatment (73%). Greater use of virtual care has made them more aware of their data privacy and security needs (64%) and they’re thinking about whether their health information is valuable to advancing research (54%).
People have a greater willingness to share personal health data with a medical provider or pharmaceutical companies if it delivers a personal benefit, such as improving their health and increasing their medications’ effectiveness (44%), or to gather evidence about their medication and treatment efficacy (37%). Only 17% would let pharma companies manage a chronic illness in collaboration with a medical provider.
Pharmaceutical companies can boost trust
As in years past, people trust their healthcare providers far more than health insurance companies, technology companies, pharmaceutical companies or the government. Just 15% said they trust pharma companies more now than they did before COVID-19. People think pricing transparency would increase trust in pharma. This is not surprising, as almost 30% of patients report not taking their treatments as prescribed due to cost.1 We believe pharma could address these issues by redefining economic relationships with customers, demonstrating value and sharing in outcome-based risk (source: New Science: Biopharma’s new growth machine). The industry has an opportunity to use the lessons of the last year to help address system and patient-level affordability issues, while still advancing the discovery, development and delivery of new treatments for all health conditions.
In addition, people would have more trust in pharma companies if they were more transparent about the drug development process (34%) and communicate clearly about the effectiveness and side effects of medications (34%). Some people would also like to see tougher regulations around advertising and more patient diversity in clinical trials.
Moving from reaction to revolution
The healthcare system used technology to accomplish great feats for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet will these gains last? While many advances were in reaction to challenges brought forth by the pandemic, there is room to build on these gains to work in revolutionary ways that put people at the center of care. The signals we saw in our research point to the need to embrace digital technologies that support health management and healthcare access, deliver better experiences and enable greater trust.
Members of the healthcare ecosystem must present information about benefits more clearly to people to boost adoption and to help them understand how technology can support a more human healthcare experience.
Ecosystem players must come together to make healthcare experiences simpler, more coordinated, more empathetic and, ultimately, more effective for people.
Being more transparent when it comes to pricing, drug development processes and side effects of medications, as well as garnering people´s consent in the use of their personal health information, can help bolster trust.
We have entered a new era of care coming out of the pandemic, but we can’t forsake the strides that have been made. This moment in time presents a historic opportunity to stay with the future of healthcare.
*Our “patient” cohort within the broader sample includes those with at least one of six therapeutic area conditions.