Returning to Clinical Practice Amid COVID-19: A Q4 Pulse Check
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As communities around the world continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, patients are weighing when, how and under what conditions they might be willing to resume their healthcare efforts. Similarly, healthcare professionals and health systems are examining what they can do to safely return to practice and resume providing quality care to their patients.
As part of the Johnson & Johnson commitment to supporting frontline health workers amid COVID-19 and beyond, Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies conducted market research in October and compared it to its August survey to explore the sentiment patients around the globe have about COVID-19, and how it impacts their willingness to return to care.
Our survey found that while the ongoing pandemic has greatly impacted how and when people seek health care globally, healthcare behaviors—such as seeking surgical procedures and health screenings—are starting to ease back to pre-COVID-19 levels. Nonetheless, some barriers to care persist.
Surgical Procedures & Health Screenings
Since August 2020, surgery delays have declined, deferred procedures are continuing to clear and new patients are entering the surgery funnel and having procedures performed. The speed to return to annual screening is also increasing, however a considerable number of consumers across the globe have reported that they would still substantially delay or not have screenings/tests done at all in the current pandemic environment.
Nevertheless, throughout the pandemic, the number of those having surgical procedures performed without delay continues to rise. In fact, in the U.S., most patients surveyed received surgery within 1-2 months of first attempting to schedule it. For example, 50% of patients who scheduled their surgery for October 2020 received their surgery in the same month, which is the highest percentage of on-time surgeries reported since the early days of the pandemic in March of the same year.
To date, over 83% of patients in the survey first attempted to schedule their surgeries during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the majority of patients being new. This indicates a returned willingness to engage with the American healthcare system, potentially as a result of widespread adjustment to a “new normal,” at least among survey respondents. In October, regardless of when they entered the surgery funnel, 52% of patients said they were committed to promptly returning to surgery—however, 15% of those patients were still delaying their surgery or wouldn’t pursue it at all amid COVID-19.
As it relates to unplanned delays in care, 41% of U.S. patients in the survey who scheduled a screening this year cite a delay from the initial scheduled screening. Those who did experience a delay generally scheduled it prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For those who have undergone surgery amid the pandemic, our survey found that transitioning from outpatient surgery to Ambulatory Surgical Centers appears to have a positive impact on patient willingness to return, as 48% of U.S. consumers said that they are more willing to have surgery in the latter setting.
Barriers to Care
The most prominent barriers to care that emerged from our survey are:
- Finances and Affordability
- The Current Pandemic Environment
- Contact with a Healthcare Professional (HCP)
Finances remain a primary barrier to receiving care for many patients globally—particularly in the U.S—where more than half of patients who can’t afford surgery report that their ability to pay was impacted by COVID-19.
However, our research suggests that the burden of cost varies by procedure and therapeutic area. Affordability is a larger barrier for athletic procedures compared to other types of procedures such as those for the spine and hip. Yet, those needing cancer surgery are more likely to feel an urgency to return to surgery and have the ability to pay, followed by cardiovascular.
In addition to financial security, patients also indicated that their decision to receive in-person care would be contingent upon having a safe environment, absence of the virus or a vaccine for the virus and assurance of safety from health care practitioners—demonstrating that the current pandemic environment is a barrier to care in and of itself.
Contact with an HCP influences prompt patient return as well, as patients who have been in contact with their doctor have demonstrated a higher commitment to returning to surgery within the next 3 months. Additionally, our research showed that U.S. patients are more likely to have been contacted by their doctor than patients in other nations, but overall, not receiving doctor contact may put patients at risk of being lost from the surgery funnel—as these patients are more likely to delay indefinitely in comparison to those who have been contacted, across procedure types.
Despite the increased risk that comes with health visits amid COVID-19 and the additional barriers to care, trips to the doctor, dentist and pharmacy were trending upward in October, as patients began to revert back to receiving in-person care.
Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies remains committed to supporting clinicians and the patients they serve as we navigate the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 and will continue to mobilize our global reach and deep scientific expertise to address the critical needs of healthcare providers, families, communities and employees around the world.
To help facilitate the all-important line of communication between doctors and patients, visit My Health Can’t Wait—a Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies’ educational initiative and resource hub with tools for both patients and healthcare professionals to engage in meaningful conversations about how and when to prioritize needed care.
Visit: jnj.com/coronavirus to stay up-to-date on our Company’s efforts to address the critical needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Source: Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies COVID-19 Consumer/Patient Sentiment Tracker, October 2020.