Healthcare-seeking behaviours: insights from patients during the COVID-19 pandemic
We all know how much the COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone around the world. And within the healthcare industry, priorities have been re-evaluated and processes changed, to ensure that patients keep receiving care. This has meant changes to the way healthcare professionals and patients communicate and the wider introduction of virtual appointments. At COUCH Health, we’ve conducted research to find out how patients are feeling about these changes, including their feelings towards visiting healthcare centres and the use of telemedicine. We carried out a survey among patients who have any one of these conditions: chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), ulcerative colitis (UC), Crohn’s disease (CD) and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). We received over 1000 responses in total – thanks to all the patients who took the time to complete the survey.
Unsurprisingly, our findings reveal that people have concerns and anxiety about visiting healthcare centres, as these pose a risk of exposure to the virus.
“I don’t want to go to the doctor and be around people.” US patient with IPF
Patients were also worried about wasting doctors time if they booked in appointments.
“The NHS have enough to do, I don’t want to overwhelm them.” UK patient with CD
Based on this and other evidence that shows high numbers of people are avoiding seeking care, considerable efforts will be needed to reassure patients that attending health centres and appointments can be safe. Public health messaging would also be beneficial, to reiterate the importance of seeking medical attention. This will help maintain health (outside of the pandemic) and avoid missed or delayed diagnoses.
Across all disease areas, respondents showed a clear preference for face-to-face appointments vs any other format, even though most people expressed satisfaction with virtual appointments. Some comments suggest that more education is needed about how technology can support virtual appointments and enable simple tests to be carried out.
“It’s not the same. How can a doctor examine me online. Blood pressure, oxygen breathing tests, it wouldn’t work” US patient with IPF
Very few respondents were currently taking part in a clinical trial (for example, only 0.9% of COPD patients and 1.9% of UC patients). On the whole, people reported being happy to carry out clinical tests at home, if given appropriate guidance. Interestingly, patients in all disease areas apart from IPF would prefer to travel to the clinic rather than staying at home after the pandemic. More research into this area would be beneficial to guide how studies introduce remote visits and data collection.
This research gives important insights to how patients feel about their condition, seeking care and telemedicine. The responses highlight that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to healthcare, and that patient insights are essential to help guide decision-making whether it’s about reassuring patients through public messaging, or introducing more decentralised clinical trials. Further research among patients with other conditions will be important to help guide decision-making during and beyond the pandemic.
Take a closer look at our findings in the report below.