Patients intrigued by digital health services, but still value face-to-face interactions

By | December 7, 2019

Rising healthcare costs are at the core of the national healthcare debate. Many have pinned their hopes on new digital technologies to help reduce costs and expand access, but while patients are interested in using digital healthcare services, they still value high-quality interactions with their doctors, shows a survey conducted by the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, in collaboration with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.

Health plans increasingly vary in what combination of traditional and digital services or features they offer members, especially as new technologies and innovations are introduced by the healthcare industry. With this in mind, BCBSAZ and the USC Schaeffer Center collaborated on the survey to better understand consumer priorities in this new environment.

The survey was aimed at evaluating consumer healthcare priorities, demand for health plan features, and interest in using digital healthcare services.

Digital healthcare services have the potential to enhance patient experience while helping to reduce costs and there is widespread belief that they will transform the industry. But there is relatively limited understanding of consumer interest in adopting these new technologies, especially if it supplants traditional care delivery.

In order to understand consumer demand for digital healthcare technologies, the survey used a combination of questions on consumer interest, priorities and willingness to pay.


More than half of respondents said they would be likely to have a virtual office visit to get immediate answers to urgent healthcare issues, while almost seven in 10 indicated they would be likely to use an app or online system for appointment scheduling and healthcare reminders.

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When asked to consider a hypothetical health plan that offered these virtual visits and online services, 45% of respondents said they would be willing to pay more for them, averaging $ 25 per month across all respondents.                

But when required to prioritize, respondents ranked other aspects of healthcare interactions — like high-quality interactions with their doctor — much higher than access to digitized services.

The numbers suggest it’s about balance: making tradeoffs with valuable premium dollars to meet their health goals. The findings will be used to provide insight regarding priority areas for subsequent research and policy analysis. It will also set a baseline for future consumer research.

The survey was conducted in October 2019 through the Understanding America Study, a nationally representative internet panel of American households. The sample included 1,531 respondents, and the results were weighted to reflect the Arizona population.


Prior research shows showing consumers of all ages are showing more willingness to try nontraditional services such as virtual care and retail clinics, but the trend is more pronounced among younger generations.

For instance, Gen Z and millennials are least likely to have a primary care physician, compared with Gen X, baby boomers and the silent generation; 85% of respondents from the silent generation, born between 1928 and 1945, report having a PCP, whereas just 55% of Gen Z patients, born from 1997 onward, report the same.

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