HealthMay 29, 2023

The next era in pharmacy: Five key insights from the consumer care and cost trends survey

What happens when healthcare consumer trust is decentralized and shared across multiple healthcare professionals?

This was a central question of our second survey, “Pharmacy Next: Consumer trends and industry transformation,” a report rich with insights into the modern US healthcare consumer. As it turns out, today’s healthcare consumers have moved past the single-access-point type of care to reposition the pharmacy in prioritizing choice, convenience, and collaboration.

Our findings are clear: Consumers want decentralized care, largely because of demographic differences, cost-driven decision-making, and shifting trust in care providers and settings.

As we saw in last year’s survey, primary care decentralization is continuing. The traditional one-doctor-one-patient, single point of coordination is vanishing.
Dr. Peter Bonis, Chief Medical Officer, Wolters Kluwer Health

Based on our survey results, here’s an overview of five key patient healthcare consumption trends that are shaping the future of pharmacy.

1. Demographics are driving the shift away from primary care to varying degrees

Younger generations are leading the way to the future of decentralized healthcare consumption — but they’re not alone. Patients in non suburban settings, men, and parents are also driving shifts away from the physician's office.

Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers are sticking with the traditional physician’s office, with 66%, 78% and 85% respectively having made a visit in the last year. Only 40% of Gen Z had made the same trip. And there’s an inverse trend around decentralized care: Gen Z and Millennials were more likely than boomers and Gen Xers to have visited a local pharmacy, department store, or a local grocery store to receive care.

Other demographics are driving similar trends: parents, for example, are less likely than nonparents to have visited a physician's office in the past year, and men (62%) are more likely than women (54%) to say they’ll first visit a local pharmacy when dealing with a nonemergency.

Regional and neighborhood distinctions are also impacting decentralization in different ways. Patients in the Southern and Western regions of the US, for example, are less likely than those in the Northeast and Midwest to have visited an urgent care clinic in the past year. And people in suburban and rural areas were more likely than those living in urban areas to report having visited a traditional office. Urbanites, on the other hand, prefer local pharmacies, urgent care clinics, and local department stores.

While age, gender, and location are driving decentralization to different degrees, pharmacies are emerging as first-line options for nonemergent care across most demographics.

2. Care settings are changing, but patients still have preferences

While patients are increasingly open to receiving and initiating care in new settings, they still have standards and expectations.

Americans exhibit high levels of trust in their local pharmacy to provide care, especially in comparison to the clinic staff at department stores like Target or Walmart: 79% say they’d trust their local pharmacy more and 80% report they would probably never seek healthcare at a department store.

Urgent care is another preferred care setting. More than half of survey respondents say they’d likely go to urgent care for injuries, while only about a third report they’d solely go to a physician’s office. Women (57%) are more likely than men (51%) to prioritize urgent care for treatment of injuries, sprains, and cuts, while men were slightly more likely to first choose settings like a local pharmacy, grocery store, or department store.

Dr. Peter Bonis believes that meeting consumers’ expectations requires providers to start getting ready now. “By preparing for this shift today, providers can work in concert across care sites to deliver the best care to patients,” he says. “Likewise, newer care delivery models, like retail pharmacies, can ensure they’re ready to meet the expectations of healthcare consumers, who will increasingly be turning to them for a growing range of care needs.”

3. Patients are reaching beyond primary care providers for support in medication decisions

Today’s healthcare consumers are spreading trust among their providers, and they increasingly believe that making care decisions should be a team effort. 58% of Americans said they are likely to visit a local pharmacy as a first step with a non-emergency issue.

That belief extends to making medication decisions, too. A full 81% of healthcare consumers trust pharmacists, nurses, nurse practitioners, and health clinic staff to not only diagnose illnesses like flu, allergies, and ear infections but also prescribe medication as treatment.

When getting advice on medications, more than three out of four Americans look for input from qualified professionals other than their physician. Four out of five would also be comfortable if pharmacists could write prescriptions.

4. Evolving patient perspectives are shaping care decisions

Many patients believe that, in nonemergent situations, ease of access is more important than expertise: One out of every three Americans ranks convenience over care providers’ credentials and qualifications. More experienced generations are less likely to agree, however, with only 23% of Boomers taking this stance.

Most patients also believe that pharmacists are engaging with their medical records, even while lack of time and interoperability challenges continue to shape the pharmacist’s role. A solid 67% of respondents indicated a belief that pharmacists check their medical records before filling a prescription more than half the time.

Even though trust in the pharmacist role is growing, there’s still ample opportunity for pharmacists to position themselves as even more trustworthy by demonstrating an understanding of individual patient circumstances when medical records are accessible.

5. The economics of medication access is top of mind

Medication affordability is defining consumer behavior around prescriptions — but patients are still wary of alternative methods of access.

According to a 2020 report on prescription abandonment and medication cost, abandonment rates were under 5% when a prescription had no out-of-pocket expense, but skyrocketed to 45% when the cost was over $125 and to 60% when the cost was over $500.

The Wolters Kluwer survey revealed a similar trend: 37% of respondents chose not to fill a prescription because of the cost. Financial concerns are also influencing their opinions on over-the-counter medications. A strong majority of patients (86%) are open to using generic medications if it helps them save money, and almost three out of four said that having safer prescription drugs available over the counter would help lower costs without compromising safety.

Healthcare consumers also want professional insight to support their decisions. Patients want to be informed of medication alternatives, especially if it enhances affordability: 92% felt their physician and pharmacist should provide information about other options. Many are taking initiative, as well, with 36% having talked with their pharmacist about affording medication or alternative options.

To save money, many are turning to options like mail or subscription services. In fact, 67% prefer these options if it means lower costs. But more than half are concerned about drug tampering, theft from their mailbox, and potential unexpected interactions with medications they might get elsewhere, like a local pharmacy.

These findings highlight that patients are looking to pharmacists not only as sources of clinical information but also as trusted allies, as they bear an increasing proportion of the cost of care.

A transforming healthcare industry

Today’s pharmacy leaders are standing on the precipice of an amazing era of industry transformation — one that will require an acute understanding of the forces that are decentralizing care and the driving factors of economics, consumer behavior, and demographic shifts.

For more survey insights and data, download our Executive Brief and infographic, and visit Pharmacy Next for expert insights from our first survey report.

Download The Executive Brief
Download The Infographic
Back To Top