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By: Genny Gordon on April 3rd, 2020

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What Consumer Search Behavior is Telling Us About Coronavirus & Implications for Access to Care

Analytics | Patient Access | Patient-Provider Matching | Provider Data Management

Screen Shot 2020-04-03 at 7.51.58 AMHow to read this graph: The bars illustrate the total number of searches for a term (e.g. diabetes) over the month via the Kyruus ProviderMatch platform and the heatmap breaks the data out by week.

While people across the world have had to adjust their lives in the face of the coronavirus crisis, hospitals, health systems, their staff, and the patients turning to them for care have undoubtedly felt the greatest impact. Healthcare organizations face the tough task of not only caring for the influx of patients needing assessment and care for coronavirus, but also ensuring they effectively facilitate care for patients in their communities with non-COVID-related medical needs, such as chronic conditions, mental health, and cancer.

Looking at consumer searches facilitated via our platform, we’re able to not only see trends in how consumers are searching for coronavirus care, but also gain a window into their independent healthcare needs. Unsurprisingly, we’ve seen a surge in coronavirus-related searches; in the last month, the total number of searches for coronavirus and related terms and symptoms has increased over 125% across our customer base. Alongside this though, search trends provide a clear reminder that other healthcare needs have not gone away. 

Understanding what consumer demand looks like and where gaps in care or barriers to access exist will be critical to connecting patients to the healthcare resources they need–not just tomorrow, but also over the long term. To support this, we wanted to provide insights from consumer search activity across our customer base of 50+ health systems, as well as considerations for improving access during this time.

Searches for "coronavirus" are rising rapidly, as are those for related terms like "covid-19" and "novel coronavirus"

As shown in the graph above, searches for “covid-19” and “coronavirus” rose considerably in March compared to February. However, search terms related to symptoms commonly associated with coronavirus, like cough, also appear among top search terms. While this may seem obvious to many, it underscores the varied ways consumers search for care and express their needs.

Health system considerations: Ensure that your provider profiles indicate which providers and/or locations see patients for coronavirus symptoms and that your online consumer-facing search experience is set up to surface them when people search for COVID-19, coronavirus, or other related terms. If your health system is routing potential coronavirus cases to urgent or virtual care, ensure that you configure your search similarly so consumers can clearly identify appropriate care. Integrate these updates with your broader content and triage strategy to provide patients with pertinent educational content (e.g. via a COVID-19 resource center or microsite) and guidance on where, when, and how to seek care.

Diabetes, pregnancy, and mental health remain among the top consumer search terms

While increasing access to resources for coronavirus is front and center for healthcare organizations, our data underscores the importance of maintaining access to care for those with chronic conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure, mental health needs, and other conditions requiring continuity of care as well. In fact, "behavioral health," "depression," and "anxiety" continue to rank among the top 20 search terms. So the question becomes, how can health systems–many of whom are already short on clinical resources–achieve this balance?

Health system considerations: While this balance isn’t easy, technology can play an important role in helping health systems use existing resources as efficiently as possible. For example, many health systems are leveraging virtual assistants to triage patients to the right care delivery options and take pressure off of their call centers so agents can focus on non-COVID access and outreach. New ways of providing care, like virtual visits, are also playing a growing role in enabling safe and timely access. With so many consumers going online to find care, it’s critical that these and other technology solutions be part of a broader, integrated digital strategy to guide consumers to the right resources and improve ease of access to care.

While the focus is understandably on coronavirus, consumer demand for routine and wellness care persists 

Over the last few weeks, many organizations have pushed out non-urgent appointments and turned off online scheduling–or limited it to existing patients–to free up capacity for COVID-19 patients. And while demand for annual visits, like mammograms or check-ups, has declined slightly, “general well visit” continues to be among the top three consumer search terms. With this interest delayed and building up, organizations will need to develop a strategy for managing access to these services once the acuity of the public health crisis has waned.

Health system considerations: Solving for this requires a two-pronged approach that segments patients with care needs that should be addressed in the short term and those who can safely wait until a later date. For the former, leveraging virtual care and urgent care clinics – coupled with the appropriate triage processes – can help free up capacity and strain on primary care practices. For the latter, health systems should consider options to minimize strain on their call centers by allowing consumers to arrange care in new ways, whether that's directing them, again, towards virtual visits or offering online booking for appointments that are farther out.

Analyzing search trends can help health systems understand consumer behavior and demand, as well as reveal opportunities to streamline access to care over the short and long term. As this situation evolves, we will continue to provide updates about what we are seeing to help your organization navigate this global health crisis.