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COVID-19 Consumer Behavior: Key Findings and Takeaways from Wave 4 of the Optum Consumer Pulse Survey

We're now about four months into the pandemic, and many areas of the country have been working hard to reopen. But things aren't looking good in some states, and that may be affecting consumer opinions regarding health care. I'm Danny Fell with Optum and I lead our consumer pulse survey work. Today we're taking a close look at our latest consumer research on the impact COVID is having on consumer engagement with health care providers.

If you've joined us before, you know the Optum Consumer Pulse Survey is a poll of 700 consumers nationwide being conducted every two weeks. We began the survey the week of May 4th, and these results come from our fourth wave conducted the week of June 15th.

In our survey, we're exploring how ready consumers are to re-engage with health care services and how likely they are to go to appointments with their physicians and hospitals today. One central tracking question, how likely consumers are to postpone or reschedule a procedure in a hospital today. While the total percentage of consumers who said they're likely to postpone an appointment fell to a low of 53%, we may also be seeing a slowing in this trend.

In fact, we saw declines among those who said they definitely would see a provider in every scenario we track from physicians to hospitals. It's too early to tell if this is a reversal or a result of what is happening around the country with rising cases, but we'll be watching more closely in future waves and bringing those insights to you.

The picture for emergency care utilization is trending down as well. We saw a six point increase in the percentage of consumers who say they would likely avoid the ER, even if they were having symptoms of a serious condition, such as a heart attack. And among those who are unemployed, that percentage has now reached almost one in two. While the number of consumers who say they're willing to use an urgent care or freestanding center remains largely unchanged.

Here again, the number of consumers who say they would go to a previously scheduled appointment with their physician fell from 70% to 68% - well within the margin of error for our survey, but interesting to note nonetheless. But even more alarming is the percentage of unemployed consumers who now say they would visit their physician. This has fallen to just 40% today. Among adults, 65 years of age or older, we continue to see a stark difference in males and females with males more likely to say they would visit their physician than females. And again, not surprisingly interest in telehealth as an alternative to visiting a physician in person has remained very strong.

One new feature this week is a question we posed on the importance of health care brands and how COVID is affecting consumer feelings towards their local health care providers. Overall 37% of consumers said health care brands were more important, while just 8% said they were less important. This was particularly true among younger millennial and gen Z consumers. And in some regions of the country, such as the South and the Northeast.

On this slide, you can see our curve relating to postponing or rescheduling a hospital procedure continues to flatten, with 53% now saying they would postpone and 47% saying they would not postpone a medical exam or a procedure in a hospital today.

Here, we see that consumers are generally still more comfortable going to a physician's office for an appointment, followed by an urgent care center, outpatient centers, and finally a hospital. This is based on the percentage who chose the top box or extreme end points in our survey scale.

But among those who are unemployed and seeking employment, the picture is even more disturbing with large numbers of consumers reporting they're unlikely to seek care from a physician or even an emergency room in these two examples. And as mentioned earlier, health care brands remain very important to consumers with almost one in three reporting they're even more important today. And younger consumers under age of 50 saying health care brands are even more important today.

If you would like to have a complete set of our research data and be notified when our next wave of the consumer pulse surveys publish, simply send us an email, we'll add you to our distribution list. And if you'd like to learn more about a unique predictive model called the COVID Concern Index, we've created to give health systems a custom look at how likely consumers are to re-engage with health care services, let us know. We're happy to conduct a free analysis for you.

And as always thank you for your time and your interest in our consumer research and our consumer analytics work at Optum. Please reach out if we can answer any questions or be of any assistance in your consumer marketing and patient engagement efforts.


See key findings from wave 4 of our consumer readiness survey

Now that states are open and trying to operate amidst COVID, hospitals are wondering how patients will feel about returning to their facilities for non-COVID related care. In this video, Danny Fell reviews findings from the fourth wave of the Optum Consumer Pulse Survey.

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