UnitedHealthcare Survey: Most Americans Bullish on Virtual Care for Medical Services

Nov. 2, 2020
The findings reflect the surging interest in virtual care due to COVID-19, the report’s authors contend

The pandemic has put a spotlight on digital health innovation, and according to recent research from UnitedHealthcare, the majority of Americans are interested in using virtual resources for medical services, while many are turning to technology to help evaluate symptoms and comparison shop for care.

The fifth annual UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey provides insights into the healthcare knowledge, opinions and preferences of Americans surveyed during open enrollment. The research was conducted in September, via an online survey of 1,004 U.S. adults.

A survey-record 56 percent said it is likely they would use virtual care for medical services, and are interested in using digital devices, such as smartphones, tablets or laptops, to access care, while about one-quarter (26 percent) would prefer a virtual relationship with a primary care physician. 

These findings reflect “the surging interest in virtual care due to COVID-19,” according to the report’s authors, who add that the research underscores the 10-fold increase in the use of telehealth amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  Further, nearly half of respondents (47 percent) said it is likely they would use virtual care for behavioral health issues, such as to help treat depression or anxiety.

When it comes to comparison shopping for care, more than half (55 percent) of respondents said they had used the internet or mobile apps to comparison shop for healthcare during the past year. For one-quarter of respondents (25 percent), online or mobile resources are the first option to evaluate health issues or symptoms.

Gen-Z (75 percent) and millennials (65 percent) were the most likely to use comparison shopping resources, compared to Gen-X (59 percent) and Baby Boomers (43 percent). Among all comparison shoppers, the majority (86 percent) described the process as “very helpful” or “somewhat helpful,” including nearly half (47 percent) saying the shopping process prompted them to change the healthcare provider or facility (or both) for the service.

Meanwhile, for more than one-third of respondents (35 percent), a healthcare 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 percent) of respondents and friends/family (11 percent)

“COVID-19 continues to reshape many aspects of our lives, including how people research health plan options and access medical care,” Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer of UnitedHealthcare, said in a statement accompanying the survey results. “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. We hope the results might lead to positive action to enhance people’s journeys and care experiences.”

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