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Australian survey respondents, from 10,038 responses globally
of Australian respondents rated their health as excellent/good
are willing to use video virtual care again
rate 'national government' as trusted for accurate health information
The healthcare industry responded with astonishing speed to the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic. Practically overnight, it shifted much of its work onto virtual platforms and digital technologies; and in doing so, packed a decade’s worth of reforms into a few short months.
Our 2021 Global Top Health Industry Issues focuses on four top themes that will continue to grow in strength. These include: the opportunity presented by the increase in virtual health; the power of data analytics to deliver better health and economic outcomes; powerful technology-fueled innovation in clinical trials; and efforts to build supply chain resiliency.
Our analysis is supported by a PwC survey of over 10,000 consumers in 10 countries, including Australia, conducted in January 2021 to obtain insights on people’s healthcare experience during the pandemic and their readiness to adapt to change. From our research, one thing is clear. Rather than revert to normal, the industry has the potential to reimagine healthcare as it progresses to a new normal.
One in two people surveyed were worried about attending in-person medical appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic, with younger generations and those who rated themselves as in "good health" (43%) more likely to be worried than older generations and those rated in "poor health" (33%).
As such, the potential for 'downsteam' implications on the healthcare system in the future could be high, due to delays in early interventions or less attention on preventative care.
The good news is that those who marked their health as 'poor' were more inclined to keep up their visits to the doctor. While this could be the result of necessity in treating pre-existing medical conditions, it is encouraging that those in poor health maintained the vigilance of their care despite possible exposure to, or impacts of, COVID-19.
Preventative hygiene measures not only have a medical impact, they also inform patient experience and comfort.
The majority of respondents would be more comfortable going to the doctor if preventative hygenie measures were in place, including mandatory mask wearing; sanitising hands on entering and leaving my appointment; limiting the number of patients allowed at any given time; and temperature checks on arrival. And for those marked as "Worried", a combination of measures is required to make these respondents feel more comfortable.
When trying to influence behaviours, or communicate messages, the federal goverment is a trusted source.
Four in ten Australian respondents ranked the "national government" as a trusted source of information during the pandemic. A similar proportion of respondents also ranked global health agencies (e.g. the World Health Organisation) (34%) and GP (35%) as their most trusted source of information. This differs to the global average, where "global health agencies" and "primary care doctor or specialists" ranked higher than "national government".
Leveraging this trust in federal government communications channels, and through primary care networks will likely promote wider acceptance of distributed medical information and guidance.
The COVID-19 pandemic increased anxiety across the Australian population (all age groups as well as all health types), with heightened levels of those who already had "poor health". One in two respondents of "average health" or "poor/very poor health" experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression as a result the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting that the most physically vulnerable populations required additional support and care to ensure their ongoing health and wellbeing. Similarly, it appears mental health impacts were more acutely felt by younger generations, with 40% of 18-44 year olds experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depresssion (vs. 29% of those aged 45 or older).
The good news is, many identified positive means to address anxiety such as exercise. Of the respondents in "good health" that experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression, 51% used exercise to alleviate/cope with their symptoms.
The use of non-in-person models of care saw a significant increase across all cohorts during the COVID-19 pandemic. Before COVID-19, only one in five people aged 45+ had received care virtually, however during the pandemic this has increased to one in two people aged 45+. The pandemic has encouraged the adoption of virtual health services for older generations, who may have previously been uncomfortable or technologically unsure about the medium.
The majority of this growth has been seen in telephone consults (telehealth), with 35% Australians surveyed having received care via telehealth, while video calls have had only a marginal uptake. For those who used video virtual health, 80% had some 'issue' with the appointment (such as technical issues or level of comfort for either consumer or clinician), but despite this, a very large proportion of people are willing to use video virtual health again after the pandemic (with the highest cohort those between 25-44 at over 94% acceptance).
Similarly, there is a generational divide in the willingness to use video virtual healthcare services once the pandemic risk is decreased - while four out of five people aged under 65 are willing to use video health services once the pandemic risk is decreased, this figure drops to only 2 out of 5 respondents in the over 65 cohort.
Leveraging this momentum, Australia has the opportunity to improve health outcomes by scaling virtual care to enable improved consumer and clinician experiences, ultimately impacting effectiveness and efficiency of care. To do this, healthcare providers need to build a clear virtual care strategy to inform what care should be provided face-to-face, virtually or in a hybrid model. And, the experiences of consumers, carers and clinicians needs to guide the design and delivery of virtual healthcare.
Forty-two per cent of all Australian respondents said they will get the vaccine as soon as its available, with 28% stating they would within a year there after. While there was no difference between health types with regards to vaccine uptake, there was when seen through the prism of income, with those on higher incomes more willing to get the vaccine sooner.
Older generations are very enthusiastic to receive the vaccine when it becomes available, suggesting a potential feeling of urgency due to their perceived vulnerability - respondents age 65+ are the most enthusiastic about receiving the vaccine as soon as its available (69%), making them twice as likely as those under the age of 34 (36.5%).
The majority of people from younger generations are hesistant to receive the vaccine, indicating the need for further information dissemination specifically directed to this population. And using the insights from the most trusted sources for this information, for this cohort it would be best served either through "national government" or "global health organisations".
Trust in sources of information and evidence also ranks as the most important for what would encourage respondents (54% of total) to get the COVID-19 vaccine sooner. However, these trends shift again when broken down by income. While 70% of the high income bracket would be willing to get the vaccine sooner if they had more evidence or information, for those in the low income bracket, cost is also a strong driver (31%).
The COVID-19 pandemic amplified pre-pandemic trends in the role of the GP and the importance of the primary healthcare model. Perhaps some positive shifts to alternative delivery models (virtual care) might see increased capacity in the primary care environment to further strengthen the role of the GP and their relationship to patients, by allowing them more time to spend with individuals to understand their holistic health, rather than treat the primary symptom being presented.
All income brackets were more inclined to talk to their GP about the different social, economic, behavioural and/or environmental factors that impact their health, with those respondents rated as in "poor health" rated being the most likely to use this service provider (40%).
Generally, however, there is limited conversation across healthcare services about factors influencing health, with 35% of all Australian respondents not discussing different social, economic, behavioural and/or environmental factors and their impacts on individual health.
Those administering clinical trials need to build trust in the community to encourage trial participation, particularly in low income communities. While age was not really a factor determining willingness to participate in a clinical trial - with 63% on average willing - for those not willing, it was generally (more than 50%) a concern around lack of trust and the fear of the unknown.
'Unknown unknowns' will be a key theme in Australian healthcare systems over the next 12-18 months. The volume of care that has been rescheduled or missed altogether will have an impact on individual health outcomes and the efficiency and cost of delivering care in the future, with 20% of all respondents reporting an experience of delayed care due to COVID-19, and the largest type of deferred care being annual physical/well/preventive visits at 32%. For those that had their care delayed (across all care types), 52% of cases had to wait 2-5 months, while 28% had a delay of six or more months.
National Health & Wellbeing Lead Partner, PwC Australia
Tel: +61 2 8266 5091
Partner, PwC Australia
Tel: +61 (3) 8603 0294
Director, PwC Australia
Tel: +61 2 8266 1251
Partner, National Health Analytics Leader, PwC Australia
Tel: +61 2 8266 0698