Let’s Get Phygital: Digital Patients Shaping the Future of Healthcare

Science

Dorottya Fábián, head of Deloitte Hungary’s healthcare industry team.

Younger generations are bringing about new trends, which are slowly spreading to all areas of life. In healthcare, one such is the emergence of so-called “phygital patients,” who are much more comfortable using digital innovations while still clinging to physical solutions in some cases. A recent study by Deloitte looks at how healthcare might be transformed by their emergence.

The term “phygital” is a portmanteau word formed from the conflation of the words physical and digital and is being used in a growing number of fields.

Big Four consultancy Deloitte looked at what phygital patients are and how their emergence could transform healthcare in the coming years. As with any new trend, the market is expected to adapt to new consumer behavior sooner or later.

According to the study, there are several key differences between traditional and phygital patients. The latter use digital solutions in much higher proportions in the pre-trial (76% vs. 58%) and post-trial (72% vs. 52%) phases than traditional patients. However, both groups preferred face-to-face contact throughout the study.

Only 39% of traditional patients trust sizeable global technology companies enough to entrust them with their medical records, compared to 60% of phygital patients. More than half of this second group would be motivated to take a more active role in managing their health by an app that combines multiple well-being and health-related functions.

Phygital patients are also more likely to care about their mental health compared to traditional patients (65% vs. 41%). Unsurprisingly, phygital patients are much more likely to use phone apps to track the progress of their long-term illness (60% are open to this) compared to just 26% of traditional patients.

This already shows how the future of healthcare could be transformed by the emergence of more digital-minded patients: virtual visits could become more widespread, the role of technology companies could grow, mental health could receive more attention, and more medical apps could be on our phones.

Gergely Doszpod, senior consultant in Deloitte Hungary’s technology consulting business.

Digitalization Benefits

According to Deloitte’s research, no other area in healthcare offers the same efficiency gains, quality improvements, safety, and economic benefits as digitalization. One significant trend in the coming years will be the spread of digitally-enabled physical solutions in healthcare, a trend that was hastened by the coronavirus pandemic.

The authors of the study believe that an important characteristic of the patient of the future will be the increasing use of new tools (phone apps, virtual doctor visits) to maintain their health. At the same time, when it comes to diagnosis, these patients will continue to behave conservatively; in other words, they will stick to face-to-face contact.

These patients could be persuaded to share their data with providers primarily through non-financial incentives and will be more concerned about their health than financial factors. For them, mental health is as important as physical health.

Deloitte surveyed patient behavior in 11 European countries, Hungary included, and compiled the study on this basis. According to the research, 49% of the population surveyed can be considered traditional patients, while 15% can already be described as phygital; the latter figure is expected to rise steadily. The new trend is prevalent among women of the millennial generation, who tend to work in medium- to large-sized companies and are afraid of chronic illnesses.

This also poses new challenges for healthcare providers, as they have to meet new demands, such as connecting with customers through different channels. In addition, there is a need for greater focus on data management and processing, as a higher proportion of phygital patients are more likely to share their health data with providers to prevent disease.

A key finding is that digital solutions may not suddenly become the main focus of future healthcare, but the existence of more channels will be much more important than it is now. Prospective patients will rely on physical contact when they have an actual complaint, but they will be more confident in using technology to prevent it.

Hungarian Results

According to Deloitte, 48% of people surveyed in Hungary can be considered traditional patients, and 13% can already be described as phygital. Interestingly, the research found no direct correlation between a country’s overall digitalization and openness to new types of healthcare services.

The survey also reveals some specificities about the Hungarian patient of the future. Hungarians are more price-sensitive than the European average and are mainly open to healthcare solutions at a reduced price or provided by the employer. However, Hungarians are more open to digital health management applications than the average and use them more often.

This is somewhat contradicted by the fact that there is still little awareness of these digital solutions in Hungary. The findings also note that Hungarians are more protective of their data than the average European and less inclined to share it with service providers.

“Price sensitivity is making the population more receptive to discounts and freemium models that can help digital health management evolve,” notes Dorottya Fábián, head of Deloitte Hungary’s healthcare industry-focused team.

The survey found that Hungarians are more open to digital health solutions and more willing to use them to stay healthy or replace their previous routine. This is particularly surprising in light of the fact that, according to various international surveys, digitalization in Hungary is still lagging behind the European average, Deloitte notes. This means that even if Hungarians are open, the majority of them are not yet familiar with the most up-to-date digital solutions.

“Public health institutions have less time and energy to promote conscious health management applications. This task is left to innovative companies, and this could be a big potential for them,” says Gergely Doszpod, senior consultant in Deloitte Hungary’s technology consulting business.

The first such innovators have already appeared in this country, trying to adapt to the needs of phygital patients. One such company is DokiApp, which offers clients online consultations, digital knowledge repositories, and risk factor assessments. Merova is doing similar work, with the added advantage of being a non-profit and free to anyone. It is likely that similar solutions will become more common in Hungary in the coming years, as local consumers are clearly demanding them, Deloitte says.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of April 11, 2023.

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