What Consumerism Means for Healthcare

January 14, 2021

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“We are in the ultimate customer service business. There is nothing more personal or service-oriented than healthcare,” writes Dr. James Merlino, Chief Clinical Transformation Officer at the Cleveland Clinic and President of the Association for Patient Experience. As consumers, we expect convenience, personalization, and transparency in all facets of our lives: for our groceries to be delivered directly to our front doors, for our streaming services to provide tailored recommendations based on our individual preferences, for our clothing retailers to show the exact breakdown of their supply chain costs and ecological footprints. Our expectations should be no different for healthcare.

COVID-19 challenged consumers’ sense of well-being, leading many to play a more active role in their health. In 2020, consumers demonstrated increased agency and engagement in making health-related decisions as compared to previous years: they are more likely to research cost information, track their health conditions, measure fitness goals, access their medical records, and tell their doctors when they disagree with them. Nearly two out of three patients are likely to switch healthcare providers if their current provider fails to meet their expectations for COVID-19 management. In short, today’s consumers are seeking healthcare services using the same factors that they use to evaluate other services. 

Price Transparency is No Longer Nice to Have

The pandemic placed a significant financial strain on consumers, with 47% of Americans more concerned about the cost of healthcare now than they were pre-pandemic. For many years, patients have endured high deductibles, jaw-dropping healthcare bills, and confusing medical jargon. Unlike any other industry, it’s challenging for consumers to price shop for healthcare services since out-of-pocket cost information may not be easily available. As a result, most consumers do not know what they’ll be asked to pay after their visit or procedure. 

According to McKinsey’s 2019 Consumer Health Insights Survey, more than 60% of respondents report that they want more information when deciding where to go for patient care. Health coverage, cost, and patient experience topped the list as the most important factors that drive consumer choices. The overwhelming majority of respondents (90%) selected lower-cost, in-network options that are of average quality over higher-quality, higher-cost options. Providing information that is personalized to the individual needs of consumers – especially cost data – will empower them to make better decisions. And beyond price transparency, consumers need easier access to patient reviews and provider quality metrics in order to select the highest-value care for themselves and their families. 

More Healthcare Choices to Meet Patients Where They Are

With expanded care access points in the places where we live and work, consumers have more choices than ever before for how they spend $330 billion annually in out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. For years, healthcare delivery models have shifted towards distributed, consumer-oriented settings such as retail clinics, urgent care facilities, and virtual care – and this has only accelerated since the pandemic. Since their inception in 2000, retail clinics have addressed the market need for high-quality, convenient, and timely primary care with after-hours accessibility and clear pricing. Researchers estimate that up to one in five emergency department visits can be safely managed through retail clinics and urgent care centers. And with over 3,000 locations across the country, the national footprint of retail health clinics has played a critical role in expanding COVID-19 testing.

Of all the possible care settings, home is increasingly the preferred access point for consumers – with many taking technology into their own hands to monitor their health and well-being. The pandemic accelerated the telehealth revolution forward by at least a decade, with adoption quadrupling from 11% in 2019 to 46% in April 2020. Compared to an in-person visit, telehealth saves patients over 100 minutes and offers increased ease of use with online scheduling capabilities and immediate availability. With 83% of patients expecting to use telehealth services after the pandemic, virtual care is here to stay.

Strong Patient-Provider Relationships Keep Patients Coming Back 

Quality outcomes are and always will be non-negotiables for healthcare delivery, but providers can no longer rely on clinical excellence to retain their patients. Above all else, consumers consistently prioritize the patient-provider relationship and the interpersonal attributes of their providers. Even as consumers increasingly seek routine care in non-traditional settings, the most important factors for “an ideal healthcare experience” remain constant: clear communication, providers who listen to and care about them, and providers who don’t rush through the appointment. Conversely, patients who were unsatisfied with their provider’s handling of COVID-19 were three times more likely to delay care for at least one year or never return to that provider when compared to satisfied patients.

The cornerstone of the relationships between patients and their healthcare providers is effective communication – both verbal and nonverbal. In fact, how providers communicate information to patients is just as important as the information that is being communicated. Effective patient-provider communication is correlated with improved patient outcomes spanning pain control, emotional health, symptom resolution, function, and vital signs. By actively seeking patient preferences and integrating their values directly into the care plan, the best providers empower patients as partners in achieving a mutual health goal.

The future of healthcare will be ushered in by technology that equips consumers with actionable data to enable informed health decisions across the care continuum. At Truvian, we are elevating the standard for routine point-of-care testing with technology that sits where the consumer sits. By moving routine testing closer to the consumer – and away from the centralized lab model – we’re putting patients in the driver’s seat with convenient, affordable, and rapid results to inform their health journey. Our hope is that the barometer by which we measure healthcare experiences will continue to rise as patient-centered care becomes the standard, not the exception.

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