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By: Genny Gordon on May 7th, 2020

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What April’s Consumer Search Behavior is Telling Us About Coronavirus & How to Prepare for Recovery

Digital | Analytics | Patient Access | Access Center | Online Scheduling

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 3.29.53 PMHow to read this graph: The boxes represent if a term appeared in the top 10 condition-based search terms for a day within a given week, while the darkness of the color represents the volume of the searches for those terms.*

As of this week, the CDC reported more than 1M confirmed cases of COVID-19 and close to 70K deaths across the United States. Yet, despite these grim figures, data indicates that several states may have reached their peaks, including former hotspot, New York City, where there has been a continued decline in both deaths and hospitalizations due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, other states have already begun the process of reopening their economies. So now the conversation for health systems is starting to shift from simply how to respond to the pandemic to what steps to take to move forward and open up more access for unrelated appointment needs.

Last month, we shared trends from consumer searches conducted via our platform, focusing on ways to address the immediate needs of COVID-19 patients, while still maintaining access for those with ongoing conditions, such as diabetes, or with mental health needs. With health systems moving towards a period of recovery, keeping track of these trends and using analytics to inform their decisions will be important for building an access strategy for different patient populations and possible future waves of COVID-19. To support these efforts, we wanted to give an update on what we’re seeing and discuss what has changed.

Searches for "coronavirus" peaked in March and are now subsiding

As shown in the graph above, searches for both "COVID-19" and "coronavirus" are declining. In fact, the total number of searches for coronavirus and related terms (e.g., novel coronavirus, wuhan virus, etc.) has decreased 68% across our customer base in the last month. However, this doesn’t mean that consumers aren’t still searching for those terms, as the graph below illustrates. While searches reached a peak the week of March 15th, searches for COVID-19 care persist.

Health system considerations: Even as we head towards a potential period of recovery, maintaining easy access to reliable information about COVID-19 for patients will be important, especially as cases continue to exist. Looking ahead, health systems should explore additional ways to simplify how patients obtain information about services and locations, as well as guidance on steps to take if they think they may have the virus. For example, ensure patients can easily obtain information about testing sites, whether it’s making them searchable within your find-a-doctor or leveraging virtual chat technology to triage patients who are looking for COVID-related resources. Additionally, take advantage of Google My Business updates, such as new fields that allow healthcare organizations to share COVID-19 information or link to telehealth services on their profiles, to connect patients to care beyond your website. 

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Diabetes, pregnancy, and mental health continue to be among top consumer searches

As mentioned in last month’s insights, even though many health systems are inundated with coronavirus patients, care for those with chronic conditions and other time-sensitive needs cannot be delayed. In April, terms like “diabetes” and “behavioral health” remained in the top 10 search terms and there were high volumes of patient searches for them. Again, as this demand builds and some conditions become potentially dangerous with delayed treatment, health systems will need to keep finding innovative ways to maintain access, such as by expanding the availability of virtual care visits.  

Health system considerations: Virtual care can be a powerful tool for expanding access and relieving some of this pressure, while keeping both patients and providers safe. If your health system already has an established virtual care program for a certain speciality, leverage analytics to understand where need exists and prioritize additional specialties for virtual access. When states relax more restrictions, alternative sites of care, such as urgent care and retail clinics, can also help address this demand or increase capacity by providing timely access for patients with lower-acuity needs.

Demand for routine check-ups is growing, particularly for gynecological exams and cardiovascular care

Similar to last month, searches for “general well visits” continue to remain among the top search terms. However, searches for routine appointments, like gynecological exams and cardiovascular care (e.g., cholesterol issues, heart attacks, etc.), appeared more frequently and in higher volumes than the months prior. In the last month, there were more searches for the search term “gynecological exams” than in both February and March combined. With COVID-19 cases now increasing at a slower rate, how can health systems operationally balance scheduling for these types of appointments, as well as those that were cancelled or postponed due to the outbreak?

Health system considerations: As people seek to stay on top of their routine care needs,  health systems need both a strategy for facilitating those appointments safely and booking them in an efficient and consumer-friendly manner. Virtual chat technology can help take pressure off of access centers as agents continue to field COVID-19 calls and now begin the process of rescheduling appointments. Similarly, online scheduling can play a powerful role in not only delivering greater convenience to consumers, but also streamlining operations and further reducing pressure on access centers, now and over the long-term.

COVID-19 has profoundly impacted all aspects of people’s lives and strained the healthcare system - and those who deliver care within it - in ways we’ve never seen before. As we cautiously approach a potential recovery period, enormous uncertainty remains. However, using analytics, health systems can begin to navigate this “new normal” and take the steps needed to build a healthcare system for the future.

* If a box is white, it means consumers searched for that term, but it did not appear among the top 10 condition-based search terms for a day within that particular week.