Research Spotlight: Why are parents delaying children’s care during the pandemic?

The reasons and concerns vary; healthcare marketers can adjust approaches accordingly

It’s no secret that pediatric visits have plummeted in the past year, with many parents avoiding or delaying care for their kids during the pandemic. How can health systems, pediatric providers and children’s hospitals encourage with empathy and communicate with compassion? It starts with listening, and understanding parents’ mindsets, and then segmenting your messages based on specific concerns expressed by different groups.

In analyzing the data from Core Health’s proprietary nationwide study of nearly 2,000 Parents in the Pandemic, we discovered some significant differences in concerns and types of care being delayed, based on parents’ age, geographic location, and race; this could have implications to healthcare marketers in how they segment audiences, shape messages and deliver communications.

For example, Boomer parents are significantly more concerned (73%) about their children’s education than Gen Z (59%), as are African American parents (76%) compared to white parents (65%) … but the general level of concern is high across the board.

Demographic and regional concerns vary

In fact, Boomer parents consistently expressed significantly greater concern about each topic in our survey than other segments, as did African American parents, while there were not significant differences based on age of the children in the household or the gender of the parent being surveyed. Parents in the South were relatively more concerned about their child catching COVID-19 and their physical health in general, while parents in the Northeast were more concerned about catching the virus themselves.


In our previous article curating existing research on this topic, we saw that certain subgroups of parents are disproportionately pressured, including: women who are pregnant or have newborns; parents of young children; single parent families; and, of course, those who are struggling to meet their children’s basic needs.

Concerns about costs of care

Indeed, Core Health’s own research found the economic impacts of the pandemic, including job loss affecting access to health insurance, have caused many parents to delay their children’s care … and many may not realize the resources that are available to them.

“It’s been really rough. My son being diagnosed with COVID-19 and me being out of work looking for a new and full time job. It’s been hard making ends meet and very frustrating. I'm emotionally on the fritz.”

This delay in parents seeking care for their children due to costs mirrors the challenges faced by the general population. As reported by Becker’s, in a study by Gallup, healthcare costs are the reason millions of Americans are often delaying care.

The study, conducted in February 2021, surveyed more than 3,700 Americans ages 18 and older. Thirty-five percent of respondents from households with an annual income below $24,000 reported foregoing care in the past year, compared with 7% among households earning below $180,000 per year.

Eighteen percent of respondents reported they would not be able to pay for healthcare if they needed it, and the same percentage reported someone in their household skipping care due to unaffordability in the past year. However, this percentage leapt to 27% of those with household incomes between $24,000 and $48,000, and to 35% of those making less than $24,000 per year.

In addition, the Gallup study revealed disparities in the unaffordability of healthcare, cited by 29% of Black respondents, 21% of Latinx respondents and 16% of white respondents.

“I'm so scared to go out because I don't want my children to get sick. I don't have enough money. My children are upset but they need to understand I don't have a job. It's overwhelming, I have been feeling so sad. My children are helping me go through this. I have mental health issues.”

Types of care being delayed now … and in the future

The types of care being delayed also vary based on generation, region and race, with Gen Z and Millennial parents more likely to have delayed vaccines, urgent care, mental/emotional health visits, and optional surgery for their children; and Boomer and Gen X parents more likely to have avoided or delayed primary care visits. Parents in the Northeast were more likely to have delayed primary care and mental/emotional health visits, while those in the West were more likely to have delayed dental care or vaccines. Parents in the South were more likely to have avoided urgent care visits, and there were no significant regional differences for delaying optional surgery.

“I’m completely over exhausted. I work 7 days a week trying to raise my 3-year old by myself! I know I’m doing a good job but I don’t think I am. I’m just beyond stressed and exhausted!”

When asked which types of care parents would continue to delay or avoid for their children, we found Millennials in our survey more likely to cite appointments with their kids’ primary care doctor, and Gen X more likely to delay a mental/emotional health visit for their child. These groups swapped spots for those less likely to continue to delay or avoid these services.

Hispanic parents in our survey are more likely to delay dental visits, and African American parents cited vaccines, urgent care, and mental/emotional health visits among the types of care they are more likely to continue to postpone or avoid. Regional differences were found for vaccines, urgent care and mental/emotional health visits, but no significant differences based on the ages of the children.

“I am not doing that great. I get anxiety. I'm broke because I'm unemployed. I’m bored most of the time and just eat and sleep all day.”
DATA: Continued impact on delay of care.png

How can marketers use this information?

Healthcare marketers can consider how to integrate these findings into their pediatric healthcare marketing strategies and messages, recognizing that not all parents will respond to the same types of messages, depending on their concerns and reasons for delaying their children’s care. Audience segmentation can help healthcare marketers be more efficient in reaching specific groups with media planning and buying, while also delivering meaningful and relevant messages for each segment, based on their concerns and behaviors. For example, consider developing a segmented strategy to reach Boomer and Gen X parents using specific channels and media outlets, with messages focused on rescheduling primary care visits; and a separate approach for Gen Y and Gen Z parents focused on the safety of your urgent care settings.

The data clearly shows that one size does not fit all.

That gives healthcare marketers the opportunity to deepen their focus on messaging, creative and targeting, particularly with the segmentation available with digital and social advertising. If a specific audience needs a specific message, give it to them.

Fill out the form below to ensure you don’t miss information that could prove vital to winning back patients and helping your planning, in both the short- and long-term!

Parents in the Pandemic is a proprietary nationwide study of nearly 2,000 parents conducted by Core Health, offering healthcare marketers insight into parents’ mindsets and greatest concerns as health systems consider how to communicate with empathy and compassion.

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