Patient fear of clinical settings increases demand for digital health

A quarter of chronically ill patients have actively avoided seeking medical care during the pandemic.

• 1 in 2 (52%) believe increased use of digital health will help control the spread of COVID-19
• 2 in 5 (40%) believe increased use of digital health will reduce pressure on healthcare providers during the pandemic
• Calls for virtual-first appointments, wearable health trackers, and remote-by-default care

New research reveals that during the COVID-19 pandemic, around 1 in 4 chronically ill patients have actively avoided seeking in-person medical care due to fear for their safety, with nearly a third (29%) saying their desire to avoid clinical settings means they are now more likely to use digital healthcare solutions, such as apps and connected devices.

According to the S3 Connected Health research, which was conducted among 4,000 UK and US consumers*, 24% of patients with long-term or chronic health conditions – around 3.6m Brits and 32m Americans – have put off routine appointments during the pandemic, 23% have actively avoided seeking in-person care, and 19% have cancelled in-clinic visits due to fear for their safety in hospitals, doctors surgeries and medical clinics.

Figures are similarly high among general consumers, with 19% of people overall actively avoiding in-person medical care, 18% putting off routine screening tests, and 13% cancelling in-person medical appointments.  The findings raise valid concerns over the long-term impact this scale of medical avoidance could have on population health, the management of chronic disease, and already strained health systems.

Dr Kevin Hanley, Senior Clinical Consultant at S3 Connected Health, said: “It’s worrying that so many consumers – especially those with pre-existing health conditions – are avoiding or cancelling in-person medical appointments due to fear for their safety in clinical settings. If this isn’t resolved quickly, and consumers continue to put off treatment, it could put even more pressure on healthcare providers, particularly as we battle the second wave of the pandemic.”

Overcoming the fear factor

When asking chronic patients why they have avoided seeking in-person treatment:

• 38% fear catching the virus in an in-person clinical setting
• 40% do not feel safe from COVID-19 in a clinical setting and would only visit in an emergency
• 39% visited a clinical setting during the pandemic and no longer feel safe doing so
• 34% believe clinical settings are not doing enough to stop the spread of the virus
• Not only did 38% of all consumers feel that digitalhealthcare would be safer than in-clinic appointments due to COVID-19, but 40% believe a shift to digital health will alleviate pressure on healthcare providers during the pandemic by reducing the need for in-clinic care.
• 79% of all chronic patients surveyed said they would be willing to use digital healthcare solutions to support or supplement in-clinic care if offered by their GP
• 32% did not know digital solutions were already an option

Increasing digital healthcare provision in the COVID-era

When asked how their healthcare experience could be improved:

• 30% of all respondents said they would like to see more ‘virtual-first’ appointments
• 28% want in-clinic care reserved for emergencies only
• 27% want access to wearable devices that allow them to track their health at home
• 21% would also like healthcare systems to adopt a ‘remote-by-default’ care model

– meaning appointments would always be conducted remotely, unless there’s a specific need to be seen in-person.

Chronic patients also believe increasing the use of digital healthcare solutions would:

• help control the spread of COVID-19 (52%)
• reduce pressure on healthcare providers during the pandemic (40%)
• have a positive impact on the future of healthcare (47%)
• help healthcare providers focus more on urgent health treatments, such as cancer
and chronic conditions (32%)

Jim O’Donoghue, President at S3 Connected Health, added: “COVID-19 has undoubtedly accelerated the rate at which digital technologies have been incorporated into healthcare systems across the globe, sparked by the need to facilitate care provision remotely and minimize the risk of infection by reducing face-to-face meetings between doctors and patients. This shift to remote and virtual care will be a long-term reality for the industry, so it’s reassuring to see the appetite for digital health is there.

“Healthcare providers will increasingly be looking for valuable digital solutions to help them through the pandemic, and beyond. There’s a clear need in medtech circles for companies to focus on the development of devices and device-based services that enable patients and clinicians to monitor our health remotely, and improve patient outcomes at the same time.”


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