Core Exchange: Parents in the Pandemic Research Study

Insights and highlights from Core Health's proprietary research study

In this episode of the Core Exchange, Angi Krueger, Core Health’s vice president of marketing, and Laila Waggoner, Core Health’s senior healthcare strategist, discuss our proprietary research, exploring how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the way parents approach their children’s health — their attitudes, concerns and behaviors. The insights and solutions discussed are useful for marketers trying to understand parents’ mindsets so they can cut through the noise to reach parents and address what really matters to them.

  • Core Exchange | Core Exchange: Parents in the Pandemic Research Study

You can listen to the podcast episode using the player embedded below, or you can read a full transcript below. Be sure to subscribe to Core Exchange on Apple Podcasts.

Episode Transcript:

Angi Krueger: Welcome to the Core Exchange, a healthcare marketing podcast. I'm Angi Krueger, vice president from Core Health, Core Creative's specialized healthcare marketing practice.

This week, we welcome back Laila Waggoner, from Core Health, our healthcare marketing strategist to discuss our latest proprietary research on parents in the pandemic. Welcome again, Laila.

Laila Waggoner: Thanks, Angi. It's great to be here. I'm really excited!

Angi Krueger: I'm excited too about this because we've been working several months on developing this research, so I'm really excited for you to share with our audience what we've learned.

Laila Waggoner: So one of the things that's, I think, so unique about Core Health is that we do proprietary research and it's focused particularly on unearthing insights and data that really can be useful to healthcare marketers as they go about their jobs. So this particular research we surveyed nearly 2,000 parents in late 2020. And what we were really looking to understand is how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the way that they approach their children's health, their attitudes, their concerns, and their behaviors when it comes to the decisions that they're making about their children's health. And as I said, the goal was really to provide insights that healthcare marketers can use, not just as they work to rebuild volumes that have been lost from COVID-19. Certainly we know and we're not telling our audience anything they don't know about the drastic reduction in volumes, particularly for pediatrics that occurred as a result of the pandemic.

But as they're working to rebuild those volumes and bring families back into care settings, we thought it would be really important to have a good understanding of parents' state of mind, what their concerns are, what kind of safety perceptions they have, and maybe some tips that we can then provide on how to address those concerns. What kinds of care are being delayed. And finally, and this is really a big one that we keep hearing more and more about. The mental, emotional, and behavioral health of children. And we know that that just is an ongoing and deepening concern among parents and among pediatricians.

Angi Krueger: For sure. So where do you want to start? There's so much great stuff there.

Laila Waggoner: Yeah, so I thought we would start a little bit hitting the highlights of the e-book that we have prepared. And this is something obviously that people can go to the website and download the e-book. But I thought we would kind of hit the highlights and the way we've organized this information is in kind of three key sections. And at the end of each section, we have what we're terming, what I like to call, so what and now what. One of the thoughts that we've had about research is that there's so much data out there, but it's really about making sense of it and knowing how to use it to make different decisions and to think about what are the implications and how can I use this information to do a better job of marketing.

So starting with parents' current state of mind, I'll say that these results are not really surprising. I think most of us could have predicted that parents are stressed. Parents are really feeling anxious and in some cases depressed and in some cases really overwhelmed with how to respond to the pandemic. Now, obviously this data was collected some time ago, but what's interesting is that while we thought we were sort of getting through the pandemic, we're certainly in the last month or so, unfortunately seeing some real resurgence and particularly in certain areas of the country, among the unvaccinated and as we know, children, certainly under the age of 12 have not had access to the vaccine.

Angi Krueger: Right.

Laila Waggoner: And even among those 12- to 15-year-olds, the vaccination rate is not accelerating as quickly I think as pediatricians certainly had hoped. So some of these concerns continue to linger and I think health systems and pediatric hospitals and practices are still struggling a little bit to get folks back into the fold.

Angi Krueger: Yeah, it's interesting how much has changed really over the last month or two, like you said. I mean, with the new strain of the virus too and with kids going back to school, it's just a really hot topic once again. So this information is going to be interesting how we can modify it to some extent to what's currently happening.

Laila Waggoner: Exactly. I think the relevance continues to be there and it's a little bit unfortunate, frankly, that it is. But I think the key here is that some of the same issues that were true in late last year continue to be true, where people are wanting to follow the rules we found, but also wanting life to go back to normal. We certainly have seen that over the summer in particular, still the impacts of some of the financial burdens and interruptions in employment and healthcare coverage are really weighing on them. And so through the last school year, there was obviously the added strain of having kids home all the time. Well, parents were either trying to work from home, also overseeing their education. And at the same time, some parents were happy to have a little bit more of that family time and they found ways to really take advantage of that.

Laila Waggoner: In general, though, what we found was that parents would say they were okay or fine. But then when we dug a little bit deeper, we really heard some of the stories of how challenging this time really has been for them and how much they are struggling to just keep everything together. As part of that struggle, a big piece of that is the concern they had about their wellbeing of their children. We found that two-thirds had very high concern about their children's education and more than half, nearly 60% were very concerned about the mental, emotional, and behavioral health and for the physical health of their kids, high concern around children catching COVID-19 even then, and some concern about their own health and the impact of being able to care for their kids.

The data and if people are really interested in parsing this a little bit, there's a little bit more detail around some of the differences in how parents of different generations, different races, different geographies, regions, and the ages of children, how that impacted their concerns and they can dig into that a little bit. But ultimately what we found as the major insight from this part of the research is that healthcare marketers as a whole, we tend... And I say we because I certainly sat in that chair of thinking about how to market a particular service.

So we tend to focus on the operational aspects, right? To really think about the challenge that we're facing. And if it's getting pediatric volumes back up, we tend to go straight to the action item that we're trying to get people to do. And what I think this really revealed in our advice to our clients is to stop for a second and think about where people's state of mind is, and really use that information to acknowledge where they're coming from, the concerns that they have and build empathy. So that they feel heard, they feel seen in the communications, and once that's happened, then we can really move to the next step which is trying to get them to take action. But we tend to often to jump right into trying to get people to schedule appointments or bring kids back in for physicals or sports physicals obviously that's a big thing at this time of year. But just pausing to recognize what they're dealing with and acknowledging and thinking about how that affects the way we communicate could go a long way.

Angi Krueger: For sure.

Laila Waggoner: So the next section that we thought we would kind of cover is safety perceptions and how that's impacted care being delayed. And this was at least to me a little bit surprising, but many of the healthcare settings that parents could consider taking their children to were perceived as potentially unsafe. Now, this was still kind of in the throws of the pandemic. Certainly protocols have evolved over that time and hopefully a lot of healthcare systems and healthcare settings have communicated more about the steps they're taking to keep people safe. But there was a real difference in the type of setting where parents did feel safe to bring their children, doctors' offices, for example, scored much higher for a physical checkup, a well-child visit or a vaccine than for example, an urgent care setting or certainly an emergency department.

Laila Waggoner: And the kinds of care that were being delayed and that will continue to be delayed... Again, we have a lot of detail on that in the e-book and some interesting differences, again, among the different segments as we sort of, we had a nice large sample size with 2000 parents so we were able to segment different generations, the ages of children, even the gender of the parents, whether their concerns were different and what they reported as care that would continue to be delayed. Primarily that would focus around vaccinations and it'll be interesting to see as different locations continue to report on the vaccination of kids specifically for COVID-19, but this was more vaccinations in general, whether that shifts at all, but urgent care settings, for sure. And then really mental and emotional behavioral health types of visits had a relatively significantly high... That's a lot of adjectives or adverbs. A high level of folks who've felt like they were going to continue to delay that care.

So again, if we say so what and now what, we're seeing our clients and pediatric practices and hospitals and departments really highlight precautions that they're taking and remind parents of the importance of regular care that they don't want to continue to delay getting care for their kids, whether that's well-care visits, physicals, that can often unearth any kind of problems that maybe haven't been paid attention to over the last 18 months or so. So again, being empathetic about their concerns, but also urging them to bring kids back in for care.

Angi Krueger: What's interesting about that too, is even if there is some hesitancy still -- which again now might be less than it was then. Virtual care has just come such a long way over this past year. And at the very least you can reach out that way as opposed to not at all. So that's a positive that came out of everything with this.

Laila Waggoner: That's right. And just saw some data, I think just yesterday that McKinsey, I believe published that they really believe virtual care is here to stay, that even though there's been a little bit of a drop-off from the peak, it continues to stay about 38% higher in terms of volume of visits than it was before the pandemic. So you're right, from an access standpoint and certainly students and parents got really used to connecting virtually, right? Whether it was for work or for school, and so hopefully that creates yet another access point for them.

Angi Krueger: For sure. And even with mental health specifically too. I mean, having that accessibility so much easier than having to go somewhere, taking the time out of your day, that too it's great that that's come a long way too in such a short time.

Laila Waggoner: Yeah, that's really true. I think a lot of the health system's behavioral health units, and facilities, and practices are really stretched thin, but hopefully some of that technology can potentially provide an efficiency aspect or an opportunity to reach more people. And that's really the third section of our research focusing in on mental, emotional, and behavioral health of children. And parents expressed quite a few concerns in this area. Some of it's really heartbreaking when you see that 31% reported seeing signs of anxiety and depression in their children. A full 16%, which might not sound like a huge number, but when you think about the implications of this, they're living daily with the fear that their children may be suicidal and that's just heartbreaking. Forty-one percent, I mean, this is an enormous number, currently see a moderate to a very high need for mental, emotional, and behavioral health care for their child.

And so, we're seeing a heightened awareness of the importance of mental health, which is a good thing. But again, parents aren't necessarily clear exactly on what those next steps in. Or they claim to be fairly confident that they can find the care that they want, but also there's a fair number who express barriers to seeking care, including things like worry about the cost, worry about whether or not it's covered by their insurance, or if they will be able to afford it if it's out of network or outside of their healthcare coverage. There's even some concern about the efficacy of mental and emotional behavioral health care for children. A full 27% stated that they don't think it works, that it can't necessarily feel effective. So there's a real split, I think, in terms of nearly 50% saying that they are likely to seek health care for the mental, emotional, or behavioral wellbeing of their child in the next year or two, and then a third saying they're very or somewhat unlikely. So there's a real polarization there in terms of the desire to seek care. So again,

Angi Krueger: It's, I think, a lot of it has to do with too based on region and if these people were in school in person or not too, and that could be some variance in that data. Speaking from my own experience, I was fortunate enough that my son was in school pretty much that whole time. I mean, he had a week or two where they had shut their school down, but talking with some other friends who had the opposite situation; and there's just story upon story of just how their children have changed throughout this. Mental health is definitely much more talked about and it's a big concern for these parents. So I think, again, the positive side to all of this, I think is just having the awareness there and now, yes, giving people the tools and the communication around how does this work because it is uncharted territory for a lot of people. People are used to going for their pediatric checkups and checking in on a yearly basis, but this is a whole new ball game. And how do you manage through that? So, again, any communication as healthcare marketers that can help inform empathize and really educate, how to navigate these waters I think is just really beneficial.

Laila Waggoner: Yeah. I totally agree with that, Angi. And I think when we get to the, so what now what, around this particular topic, we actually get into some real detail around how to address some of the barriers that we just talked about and there's some thought-starters and considerations listed in here. And that's certainly something that we talk about with our clients and would be happy to talk about with anyone listening, who just wants to have an exploratory conversation about how might they communicate differently about these issues.

So the other piece of this puzzle is really, again, because these departments, these staff are so stretched, really looking at collaboration and thinking about, for example, strategic partnerships with schools and how those can be leveraged to reach more people, to reach parents as well as to reach students. And we have a whole article outlining some ideas about that for healthcare marketers to think about. There are lots of partnerships already in place around things like sports medicine and general wellbeing for students. And it might be an opportunity to just take an existing partnership and extend it to cover some behavioral health topics and really provide a great service to the community.

Angi Krueger: Yeah, definitely, for sure. I think that's actually a really good example just with the sports medicine you can see, especially at some of the bigger high schools, I know you walk into their gyms and it's sponsored by XYZ health system too.

Laila Waggoner: Right.

Angi Krueger: And we've got the trainer on staff. So the more we can move in that direction to have that mental health support, I think is going to be key for the future, not just temporarily but long-term.

Laila Waggoner: Right. Yeah. So that's kind of it in a nutshell. Yeah. I think, again, we would be very happy to talk in more detail with anyone who might be interested in some detailed breakdowns, as I mentioned, that are available, that shows some similarities and differences among generation, region, ethnicity, gender. We'd be really happy to take a deep dive with anybody who's interested.

Angi Krueger: Great. And as you mentioned earlier, that e-book is available on with more detail. But like we said, we even have more and more detail as we dive deeper so that's definitely out there as well.

Laila Waggoner: Yeah.

Angi Krueger: So thanks, Laila, for walking through this today just in our conversation, I think it's helpful for everyone to hear this information firsthand at a high level. And actually I wanted to mention that eventually we're going to be talking about some more insights that we have discovered recently, if you want to give a little information about that.

Laila Waggoner: The e-book?

Angi Krueger: Yeah, a little sneak preview of what's coming.

Laila Waggoner: Yeah, happy to do that. So we've been working on kind of a round up of what we're calling a "Core Health Top Five by Three" kind of key areas landscape shifts that are really affecting society as a whole and looking at the implications of that for healthcare. The top five healthcare market trends that have a direct impact there. And then the top five consumer insights that we've observed from kind of monitoring a lot of different sources. Another thing that I think are our audiences often very stretched for time. There's so much information out there and hard to kind of sift through and pull the relevant kind of nuggets. So we're going to do that for them and really pull together the top highlights there. So look for some more information to come and we'll be sharing that at upcoming conferences. We're really excited to be back in person. We'll be at SHSMD.

Angi Krueger: Yes!

Laila Waggoner: And The Forum for Healthcare Strategists ... really looking forward to engaging directly.

Angi Krueger: Yes. So excited to do that again.

Laila Waggoner: Yes.

Angi Krueger: Well, thanks so much again for your time Laila and we will be talking again soon. But in the meantime, be sure to follow our website for more thought leadership and we will see you next time.

Laila Waggoner: Thanks so much.

Angi Krueger: Thanks.


Angi Krueger is the Vice President of Marketing at Core Health, Core Creative’s specialized healthcare marketing practice.

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