“I want what I want, when and how I want it.”

If you think that sounds like a spoiled child, that’s not who I’m quoting.

It’s you, if you are a mainstream consumer in the U.S., increasingly getting “primed” by Amazon which is setting a new bar for retail experience in terms of immediacy, customer service, and breadth of offerings. I talked about this phenomenon in my Health Populi post, How Amazon Has Primed Healthcare Consumers. The blog discussed my take on Accenture’s latest study into healthcare consumers based on the report’s press release.

I appreciated the opportunity to sit down with Frances Dare of Accenture this week to discuss the details of this study during #HIMSS17. Dare led the research which was published in the report, Voting for Virtual Health. The survey examined U.S. consumers’ views on healthcare services, in-person and virtual, as well as peoples’ own health activation and motivation.

“What does convenience mean to consumers, and where does the healthcare industry meet consumers’ demands?” Dare opened. There is a broadening landscape of retail health options available to people who want to take advantage of healthcare services outside of traditional healthcare brick-and-mortar hospitals, doctors’ offices, and clinics. We ticked off some of that list, including but not limited to urgent care; big box stores like Costco, Target and Walmart; and, pharmacies, some of which have mobile apps offering condition management (such as Walgreens mobile app program partnering with WebMD addressing Type 2 diabetes), and some with on-ramps to telehealth (like CVS, which has alliances with American Well, Doctor on Demand, and Teladoc).

In this wave of retail health, consumers generally see convenience in terms of extended hours and closer to home and work. The next wave of retail health will find more demanding consumers who want a wide range of healthcare services that come to them, Dare foresees.  

A key factor fueling consumers’ demand for retail health is that 85% of people said they are personally in charge of their own health and care.

Combine that mass market sense of empowerment with their “I want what I want when I want it” (the Amazon Prime effect) and you start to understand peoples’ emerging demand for virtual health services.

Accenture defines virtual health as healthcare services that are technology-enabled and provided independent of time or location. The range of enabling technologies includes video, mobile applications, secure e-mail and messaging, social platforms, sensors, and other modes.

Accenture studied sixteen different healthcare service options for virtual health; each garnered at least 50% of people saying they would be interested in at least one of them. Eight of the 16 were of interest to 70% of consumers.

The virtual health services with the most interest included these responses, of interest to at least 70% of consumers surveyed:

  • Tracking health status (such as blood glucose, blood pressure, pulse rate)
  • Having a follow-up appointment after seeing a doctor or other clinician
  • Getting follow-up care at home after being discharged from hospital
  • Getting reminders to do things to stay healthy
  • Discussing a specific health concern with a doctor or other clinician
  • Getting daily support to manage an ongoing health issue
  • Getting reminders to take my meds
  • Having an exam for a non-urgent conditions (such as rash or sore throat).

This paints a picture of a healthcare provider ecosystem that’s delivering care both in buildings and virtually, based on the demands and expectations of consumers. That care ecosystem, Dare explained, is being re-defined, driven by consumers who tend to be under age 65, including a heavy dose of Millennials and Boomers who are sandwiched between aging parents and growing children. Virtual services are especially attractive to this group whose caregiving responsibilities are a major, and largely unpaid, burden in daily living.

More care is and will continue to be shifted to lay people, who can be bolstered with healthcare support through virtual channels which complement physician and hospital providers – not replace them.

Ultimately, Dare concluded, consumers don’t always need to see a physician: they need to benefit from some form of clinical expertise in a critical moment, which can be served up through technology platforms and tools in virtual modes.

Virtual won’t replace bricks-and-mortar health care, Dare believes. It should complement healthcare delivery as we know it today, and make it better. As her team wrote in the report, “it is time for the industry to recognize that practicing medicine is practicing medicine and the channel by which it is delivered is irrelevant….the key is the flexibility to choose the right blend of traditional and virtual healthcare that is clinically sound, financially beneficial, and can engage consumers more fully on their own terms.”

Nielsen conducted the online survey of 1,501 US adults 18 and over in September and October 2016.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: We are on the early crest of the adoption-diffusion S-curve for virtual health services, with an inflection point ahead of us. As consumer-driven health gets more support in a President Trump/Secretary of Health Price administration, that inflection point may come sooner. Healthcare providers that partner with the “primed” healthcare consumer will reap benefits in terms of market share, finance, and customer experience scores.