Consumer Sentiment Evolving with COVID Spread

August 20, 2020

// By Daniel Fell //

In early May, our company launched a biweekly tracking study to better understand and monitor consumer sentiment toward seeking health care services during the COVID pandemic. The Optum Consumer Pulse Survey asks a representative sample of 700 adult consumers nationwide how likely they are to visit different types of health care providers, along with questions about their interest in telehealth and the importance of health care brands.

The repercussions of consumers putting off both routine and essential care (most likely a result of both the voluntary shutdown of elective procedures around the country by many health systems as well as growing concerns over being exposed to the virus) are significant. From both a public health and a financial perspective, hospitals — and in particular those that have lost significant revenues as a result of deferred procedures — will feel the effects for months to come.

Even for hospitals that haven’t (or haven’t yet) seen a significant number of COVID patients, a combination of shutdowns, spread of the virus across the country, and a general perception by many consumers that hospitals and medical facilities are potentially high-risk areas, has the potential to leave lasting damage. Many operate on very thin margins during normal times and the increased exposure to additional or mounting financial losses could impact both mission and sustainability.

Having completed our sixth wave of the survey since the study first launched the week of May 4, we are beginning to understand how different consumer groups think about health care services today, and the survey also sheds light on how this may impact providers in certain regions. We are better able to identify their perceptions regarding certain service lines and various care settings (physician offices, free-standing medical centers, urgent care centers, hospitals) as well as the degree to which these perceptions are shifting (or not), and how rapidly. Here are a few key learnings thus far:

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