Older people appear less willing to undergo elective procedures as the number of U.S. COVID-19 cases has risen, according to a survey by analysts at investment firm Needham & Company.
A November poll of 251 individuals with an average age of 61 years found 27% of respondents are willing to have elective procedures. That's down from a similar poll in September when 37% of respondents were willing.
That deterioration in consumer readiness to seek and follow through with care comes as medtech companies including Hologic, Johnson & Johnson and Zimmer Biomet have run campaigns aimed at giving people the confidence to re-engage with the healthcare system.
The pandemic's impact on volume of elective procedures has changed since the virus first shut down economies early this year. After an initial wave of deferrals enforced by governments or individual hospital systems, a key factor in the recovery of medtech sales became the willingness of patients themselves to follow through on procedures amid concerns of being exposed to the virus.
Analysts at Needham began tracking the sentiments of older patients in May, at which time 13% of the surveyed individuals were willing to have an elective procedure. Willingness increased over the summer, culminating in 37% of people in September saying they would undergo surgery that month if needed.
Come the middle of September, the U.S. was typically reporting fewer than 40,000 COVID-19 cases a day. Now, about two months later, the U.S. began averaging more than 150,000 cases a day. The Needham survey contains evidence the surge has dented the confidence of patients in the safety of seeking elective surgeries.
In addition to the 10 percentage point drop in the proportion of people willing to immediately undergo surgery, the survey tracked a decline in the fraction of patients who plan to have an elective procedure by the end of the year. In the November survey, 53% of people who need an elective procedure said they plan to have the surgery this year, compared to 64% of respondents to the September poll.
The latest survey found most of the procedures are expected to take place before the second half of next year but it will be some time before all are completed. “We expect a meaningful portion of people will continue to act with an abundance of caution which could result in a recovery with a long tail,” the Needham analysts wrote.
If the analysts are right, medtech companies exposed to elective procedures face a long wait for the normalization of demand. The rollout of vaccines could accelerate the process, notably by reducing infection rates and thereby tackling the main factor in decisions about whether to undergo surgery. However, the survey suggests vaccine uptake may be gradual, with 43% of people saying they will wait for full FDA approval and 39% saying they do not know when, if ever, they will get the jab.
Medtech companies are proactively trying to get patients to undergo delayed procedures. Hologic in August offered women who completed a mammogram appointment the chance to win a private, virtual performance by Sheryl Crow. J&J kicked off an educational campaign in September, followed by Zimmer Biomet in November.