After painstaking research, health economist Jane Sarasohn-Kahn has pinpointed five trends that are shaping the American people as a result of COVID-19.
By Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, MA, MHSA
Throughout the pandemic, I have immersed myself in all kinds of data—often pretty manically, to be frank. I’ve been working to determine what is going to happen with patients and caregivers as a result of COVID-19. One thing I’ve noticed is that the pandemic has really accelerated a shift in behavior—namely, health consumers are morphing into health citizens, as I explained in a blog post in September. In fact, my book Health Citizenship: How a Virus Opened Hearts and Minds, published in September, gives an analysis of the first six months of the pandemic’s impact on American consumers and the healthcare system.
Through my research, I’ve pinpointed five major trends that are shaping consumers.
- Digital transformation is here. The world has gone virtual—and it happened almost overnight. Adults have been working from home in makeshift offices, students have been attending class via Zoom, and even exercise has shifted to video workouts and on-demand classes. That’s why I firmly believe that Wi-Fi, or access to the internet, should be considered a social determinant of health. It became very clear that if you had a job that shifted to remote work and you couldn’t connect to the internet, then you were out of luck. Internet access is also important when it comes to meeting social needs. Social interaction is critical for mental and emotional health, but face-to-face socializing from a distance requires an internet videoconferencing platform such as Zoom, FaceTime, etc.
- Consumers have a do-it-yourself mentality. How many people decided to start making sourdough bread during the pandemic? As we were all stuck at home, many people took it as an opportunity to work on remodeling or renovations, spruce up their skills in the kitchen, or try new craft projects. This DIY mentality has translated to health and wellness as well. More and more people are engaged in taking care of their health at home. People are using smartphone apps to help with stress relief and managing mental health. They’re using food as medicine; focusing on immunity-boosting ingredients; and purchasing more vitamins, minerals and supplements. Consumers are taking a vested interest in improving their health.
- The home is the new health hub. As I’ve written before, the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of telehealth and virtual health technologies. As of July, data from Accenture showed that the amount of people using telehealth and videoconference calls in real time nearly doubled during the pandemic. We’ve seen physicians and providers recommending health and wellness smartphone apps to help with issues from food and weight management to mental health. There has also been a growing number of older patients using digital tools and virtual health to connect with providers during the pandemic.
- Stress and mental health are real concerns. In a survey conducted in July by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 53% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health had been negatively impacted by worry and stress caused by the coronavirus. In that same survey, many adults reported trouble sleeping (36%) and eating (32%); an increase in alcohol or substance use (12%); and worsening chronic conditions (12%), because of worry and stress caused by COVID-19. In 2018, Cigna found in its U.S. Loneliness Index that only about half of Americans (53%) have meaningful in-person social interactions. This was before the pandemic—and now, feelings of loneliness and isolation have only been exacerbated. Anxiety and depression are frequent comorbidities for people managing chronic conditions. Dealing with mental health challenges aggravates a patient’s ability to deal with medical issues: both have to be treated at the same time.
- Financial wellness is a concern for many. Money is a stressor in the lives of most people. The unemployment rate rose from 3.8% in February 2020 to 13% in May, with nearly 20 million Americans facing unemployment. Pew Research estimates that the COVID-19 recession is comparable to the Great Depression in the 1930s. With unemployment came the loss of health insurance for many people—which is concerning during a pandemic. Cost is a major issue for many people in seeking care for COVID-19-related symptoms, which is frightening when you think about the implications of people postponing needed care.
As 2020 comes to an end, we’ll see these trends continue to evolve and change, especially as virtual health becomes more prominent and adopted in the healthcare industry. We are living in an interesting moment in time with significant trust deficits between the American people and institutions, government and healthcare. We need to find ways to bolster engagement and inclusion and build trust and community locally and throughout the nation.
Editor’s note: To purchase Jane Sarasohn-Kahn’s latest book, Health Citizenship: How a Virus Opened Hearts and Minds, visit www.healthcitizenship.com.