All consumer behavior is strongly influenced by the place and time of its occurrence. Depending on cultures, geographies, and other factors, behavior may vary dramatically from one place to the next. This aspect of consumer behavior is becoming more complicated as a result of the pandemic. Since physical movement is limited, consumers are transitioning at an alarming pace into virtual worlds, where they are exposed to newer influences.
Although Covid has moved healthcare to the forefront, it has also caused a shift in people’s perceptions about which medical conditions need treatment, how to pursue medical attention, hospital safety, and finally, their experience with the newer modes of consultation adopted during this period.
Consumer behaviors that are here to stay
Consumer behavior in the aftermath of a pandemic may be predicted based on previous experiences. SARS’ spread in 2003, for example, left a lasting impression on those who lived through it. Anecdotal evidence indicates that people continue to practice behaviors learned during the crisis, such as handwashing, using toothpicks to push elevator buttons, tissue paper to open public washroom doors, and even keeping spare masks in their handbags.
The following key trends in the behavioral changes can be seen emerging from the impact of COVID-19:-
- Increased digital adoption: people are increasingly using digital tools to meet their daily needs.
- Changes in mobility trends: less reliance on public transportation and more remote jobs
- Increased health awareness: wearing masks, increased grooming, healthy eating, and so on
- Changes in human behavior: increased divorce, increased pet adoption, etc.
These patterns are intertwined and overlap. The pandemic has increased people’s use of digital platforms in their personal and professional lives to remain linked in a physically isolated world. Digital technologies are blurring the boundaries between work, lifestyle, and social interaction, as well as between realms such as mobility, wellness, and finance. These patterns are expected to continue to be significant in the post-COVID world.
Consumers are showing a substantial change in how they pursue health care.
Deloitte, a global consulting firm, commissioned a survey to investigate trends in patient behavior and better understand evolving customer preferences and expectations from healthcare providers. With a focus on shifting consumer sentiments, behaviors, and perceptions from health care providers on care settings and safety protocols, the survey included 419 consumers across geographies, employment status, gender, and age groups. Here are some of the key observations:-
Hospital visits (OPD and IPD)
During the lockdown, 94% of respondents expressed anxiety about visiting a hospital. Multiple safety procedures should be practiced at the healthcare facility, according to survey respondents. Consumers’ perceptions of protocol conformity are now being seen as influencing their choice of facilities to visit. Around 65% of respondents who had previously visited nursing homes said they preferred to visit major hospital chains because of their understanding of COVID -19 enforcement at these facilities.
At home health care delivery
Second, respondents expressed a strong desire to receive healthcare services at home across the healthcare spectrum – consultations, diagnostics, in-patient treatment, and drug delivery. Telemedicine arose as a clear option as consumers started to explore alternative platforms for accessing treatment. The publication of telemedicine guidelines by the government, as well as medical practitioners’ reduced resistance to virtual consultations, seem to have aided in the adoption of tele-consults.
During the lockdown, the number of people using telemedicine more than doubled, from 21% to 44% of survey respondents (including first-time users). Various telemedicine sites have registered a rapid uptake of online consultations in a variety of specialties, including general medicine, dermatology, and gynecology, as well as mental health.
Virtual consultations are expected to continue in the post-COVID world, owing to consumers’ growing preference for more convenient time-saving methods, as indicated by 77% of those surveyed. Tele-consults can account for up to 30% of OPD consults after the lockdown, according to some industry analysts, even though virtual consults are supposed to supplement in-person consults rather than serve as a replacement in the long run.
Consumer acceptance of at-home post-procedure treatment seems to have improved as well. Home care received a boost at COVID 19, with many hospitals launching their home healthcare services or partnering with existing home healthcare providers to provide care outside the hospital’s four walls. Between 36 and 54 % said they would be able to pay a lower price for a discounted medical package that could be used at home for a variety of services. To keep up with this new trend, insurers are considering providing subscription-based personalized services to manage treatment (including for chronic patients who need regular care management).
Private laboratories set up rapid home selection for various diagnostic tests (including COVID testing) as well as drive-through COVID-19 testing centers, indicating a similar preference for diagnostic tests. The vast majority of those surveyed preferred home sample collection (74%) and drive-through checking (46%), rather than the collection in laboratories or hospitals. Players in the industry have begun to rethink their business models to strike the right balance between the need for brick and mortar collection centers versus sampling on wheels and the related personnel deployment.
The investment and M&A operation in the e-pharmacy space is one of the most recent developments in the industry. Consumer acceptance of digital platforms for obtaining healthcare products and services has resulted in a surge in e-pharmacy sales, which have experienced exponential growth during this complete/partial lockdown period. The acquisitions and announcements of e-pharmacy plans by major companies including Reliance and Amazon validate the market potential in this space and its possible scalability, and there is an anticipation of more consolidation in this space.
What does improved health and wellness awareness mean for insurers?
The demand for insurance cover is growing as people become more aware of health risks. According to a survey conducted by Max Bupa, only 10% of people in India were interested in health insurance before the outbreak of COVID-19, but 71% felt it was a requirement during the pandemic. Demand is also being bolstered by insurers’ introduction of COVID-19-specific products, which is partly due to regulatory guidelines.
Insurers are moving to emerging technologies to meet this demand, such as using digital platforms to issue health insurance plans up to a certain cap and coverage, though this may present obstacles, such as underwriting consistency in the absence of traditional medical check-ups. Insurers are also offering tailored products, with some providing coverage regardless of travel or medical background, with many incorporating wearables and wellness apps into their portfolios.
Improving the customer experience in the new normal
The COVID-19 experience is changing the environment in which we live as well as our actions. Positive changes, especially those driven by convenience and well-being, such as digital adoption, value-based shopping, and increased health awareness, are more likely to last. This gives companies the ability to meet consumer needs with creative, flexible, granular, value-based, and integrated products. To remain competitive and adapt, they must first understand the needs of their customers.
Moreover, COVID-19 has caused a change in consumer behavior that reflects the acceleration of expected patterns, the emergence of new tastes, and a complete reversal of certain long-held routines. This combination will continue to develop as a whole, laying the groundwork for the next normal. The good news is that organizations can not only influence future consumer behavior by “nudging”- proactively promoting habits that are likely to persist after the pandemic – but they can also put themselves at the forefront of shaping customer experience throughout the new normal.