April 07, 2021 at 09:01AM

Quest Diagnostics had been preparing for 2020 for two years. As one of the top medical-testing providers in the nation, it first launched its consumer-initiated testing program, QuestDirect, at the end of 2018. Through it, consumers can visit the company’s website and order at-home testing kits for 49 different conditions.

Since then, spurred by the need to keep COVID-19’s spread contained through shelter-at-home measures, demand for consumer-driven home testing has surged. As Cathy Doherty, Quest’s senior vice president of clinical franchise solutions, told PYMNTS in a recent interview, QuestDirect grew steadily since its launch and then more than doubled its user base of about 7 million users in 2020 alone. That change, Doherty said, is part of a broader trend regarding the consumerization of healthcare and is bringing the expectations of eCommerce to the medical world.

“I think that everybody in healthcare is embracing this notion of healthcare being consumerized,” she said. “If patients are paying more out of pocket, they’re bringing the expectations from other experiences like Amazon and Zappos to healthcare. They’re saying, ‘Hey, healthcare can be different.’ And so I think the entire health industry ecosystem is working on that.”

Doherty said the pandemic might have initially driven this consumerization of healthcare, but it’s here to stay, citing not only the spike from roughly 8 percent telemedicine usage in early 2019 to 50 percent in the middle of last year but also the fact that consumers were pleased with the shift with about 80 percent reporting being satisfied with their experiences.

Combine that with the pandemic’s effect on eCommerce, and the idea of treating lab tests as a consumable is ripe. “So it took 10 years for eCommerce to increase more than 10 percentage points,” she said. “And in the eight-week period during the height of the pandemic, it increased a further 11 percentage points. Those trends just bode really well for getting consumers to have access to their lab results.”

Dollar And Deductible Driven

Doherty says another factor driving the healthcare consumerization trend is that many consumers are now on high-deductible healthcare plans that see them paying for more out-of-pocket services than ever before. Naturally, as consumers increase spending in any one sector, they bring their expectations with them. And those expectations are driving a shift not only in the consumer side of healthcare but the insurance side as well. Doherty points to the fact that major insurers are now covering consumer-initiated testing for COVID-19.

“Pre-pandemic, I don’t think there would have been anybody in this industry that would have imagined that a health plan would pay for a consumer-initiated test,” she said. That shift in the insurance industry could enable even more home testing opportunities for consumers going forward.

To enhance its consumer-facing offerings, Quest has also been trying to close the loop between testing and treatment by offering physician consultations for positive tests in some areas. Doherty said the company launched a testing/treatment program for STDs in 2019 and, since that time, has done the same with other tests, including Lyme disease and urinary tract infections. She says that in 2021 the same approach will be applied to HIV testing with Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP), a treatment in which high-risk individuals can take preventative medication daily.

A Positive Change

Beyond fostering a desire to expand its consumer-facing offerings, Doherty said the recent explosion in QuestDirect’s success has also expanded the company’s marketing focus.

“I would first say that it’s changed us in terms of what we want the consumer to experience,” she said. “Because that actually means everything. And so we’ve been driving a digital strategy as it relates to the consumer for a number of years, regardless of whether they interact with us through the traditional gatekeeper of a doctor or via QuestDirect. But we’ve been historically a B2B company, we focused on health plans, health systems and healthcare providers, but QuestDirect really has required us to invest more in consumer marketing.”

Doherty said that Quest would continue to expand its consumer-directed initiatives in the coming years. One expansion possibility might be to work with pharma companies looking to test a population to direct at-risk people to certain treatments. If the pharma companies paid for the testing, she said, consumers would learn more about their health and any potential risks at no cost.

Another potential expansion possibility Doherty envisions is a day when the company can offer testing for more than just disease.

“We think there are opportunities with vitamin-type companies,” she said.”So there’s been a lot of news around vitamin D because deficiency was considered a COVID risk factor. So wouldn’t it be nice if there was a partnership that enabled you to track that vitamin D level? There are all kinds of relationships that we think could make sense and, and these are the things that we’re pursuing.”

Quest Diagnostics Sees D2C As Future Of Consumer-Driven Healthcare …

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