For 1st time, majority of Americans are now interested in using telehealth

Annual UHC survey shows impact of COVID on how consumers are willing to access health care

A majority of Americans surveyed said they are interested in using virtual health care — and nearly half said they would be willing to use virtual care for behavioral health issues.

Those are just two of the takeaways from the fifth annual UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey, which examines Americans’ attitudes and opinions about multiple areas of health care, including open enrollment preparedness, technology trends and health plan preferences.

A survey-record 56% said it is likely they would use virtual care for medical services, while about one-quarter (26%) would prefer a virtual relationship with a primary care physician.

But, while respondents are turning more to virtual care — they are not necessarily turning to doctors and nurses to get their telehealth questions answered. Only one in three respondents (35%) said a health care professional, such as a doctor or nurse, is usually the first source of information about specific health symptoms or ailments — followed by the internet or a mobile app (25%) and friends/family (11%).

Not surprisingly, COVID-19 has led to big year-to-year differences in the survey, including:

  • Nearly half of all participants (44%) said COVID-19 has influenced — or will influence — the health plan they intend to choose and the decision-making process for selecting benefits;
  • One in three (35%) said COVID-19 has spurred them to spend more time researching health plan options;
  • More than half (55%) said they had used the internet or mobile apps to comparison shop for health care during the past year;
  • Nearly half of respondents (47%) said it is likely they would use virtual care for behavioral health issues, such as to help treat depression or anxiety;
  • And, for the first time, a majority (56%) said they are interested in using virtual resources for medical services, while many are turning to technology to help evaluate symptoms and comparison shop for care — whether it be smartphones, tablets or laptops.

Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer of UnitedHealthcare, said she hopes the results might lead to positive action to enhance people’s journeys and care experiences.

“COVID-19 continues to reshape many aspects of our lives, including how people research health plan options and access medical care,” she said.

“This survey suggests many Americans are responding to COVID-19 by placing greater importance on comprehensive health benefits, robust well-being programs and access to technology to more effectively navigate the health system.”

The survey reflects the tenfold increase in telehealth during the pandemic for a variety of issues.

More than half (55%) of respondents said they have used the internet or mobile apps during the last year to compare the quality and cost of medical services. Gen-Z (75%) and millennials (65%) were the most likely to use comparison shopping resources, compared with Gen-X (59%) and Baby Boomers (43%).

Among all comparison shoppers, the majority (86%) described the process as “very helpful” or “somewhat helpful,” including nearly half (47%) saying the shopping process prompted them to change the health care provider or facility (or both) for the service.

For complete survey results, click here.

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