This week for our Thinking Thursday TIPs we’re starting a new multi-week series called “What Patients Really Want.”
It’s no surprise to anyone that we’re living in a day and age of consumerism. What may be new is how rapidly it happened in healthcare. We’re experiencing the change to consumer-driven healthcare right before our very eyes.
Don’t get me wrong, quality clinical care is a great goal and has been the priority of many healthcare organizations over the years. Rightly so. However, I’d like to challenge our standards of excellence through this multi-week series and encourage you to think beyond where you are today. Consider what a quality patient-experience might look like within your organization, including high levels of clinical care and superior service. (1)
Did you know your patients are more likely to leave your practice in search of another provider than they are to change from their favorite airline due to poor service? (1)
In 2014 Accenture Strategy conducted a Consumer Health Study to understand consumer behavior, preferences, and attitudes as they pertain to healthcare in the US. The results were clear: consumer loyalty in the world of healthcare is indeed up for grabs.
Authors of the article, “Patient loyalty: It’s up for grabs”, by Matthew Collier and Meyer Basham write, “Just as in other industries, healthcare consumers will switch if they don’t get the experience they want. Yet, as research also indicates, give them a superior experience, and plenty would actually pay more for it.” (1)
Obviously, part of that “superior experience” includes quality clinical care, but it encompasses so much more and begs the question: “What do patients really want?”
“A McKinsey’s Consumer Health Insights survey asked more than 3,000 health care consumers which criteria mattered most to them when choosing a primary care provider. Out of 20 options, respondents chose, ‘appointment availability’ and ‘appointment times that meet your needs’ as the top two factors.” (2)
Healthcare consumers want quick and convenient access to their healthcare. We live in a world where you can order groceries and have them delivered to your front door with the click of a button from the comfort of your couch; convenience and accessibility are norms for consumers today and the expectation of that same convenience within healthcare is high.
Time is Money
In June, earlier this year, Becker’s Hospital Review published an article titled “Three Ways Physician Groups Can Build Success Into A Patient Engagement Center”, which stated, “Being able to speak directly to a nurse or knowledgeable agent within seconds of placing a call builds trust and creates an opportunity to ensure patients the appropriate level of care.” (3)
Did you catch that one word: seconds? Now that’s timely and convenient healthcare.
Regarding the topic of timeliness, The Primary Healthcare Performance Initiative writes, “Timeliness of care includes two elements. First, patients should be able to physically access care with acceptable and reasonable waiting times. Second, hours and days of facility operation should be such that patients can find a time to visit facilities without sacrificing other obligations and duties such as work or childcare and can access care for emergent needs, including on nights and weekends.” (4)
This subject of timeliness also includes patient wait times within the office, hold times on the phone, one-on-one time with the provider, and quick appointment scheduling times.
Going back to the Accenture Strategy article I mentioned earlier, Collier and Basham write, “Nearly two in three consumers would switch healthcare providers for the ability to get an appointment quickly when they needed it…half of consumers say he would pay more for the experiences they really value: weekend or after-hours appointments, for example, or to have more personal time with their doctor or specialist.” (1)
Lisa Romano, MSN, RN, CNO of CipherHealth states in an article published last August, “It is unrealistic to think that in this new age, with so many options available to patients, that they will tolerate what they perceive as inconvenience…” (5)
Remember that old adage, time is money? Consumers seem to be more aware of this than ever and aren’t taking chances with their resources.
According to Mark Wagar, President of Heritage Medical Systems, the old model of waiting for the patient to come to you is no longer effective. In fact, adopting a new way of proactively reaching out to the patient in a preemptive manner will not only provide better quality care for the patient, but will alleviate any bottle-neck issues of having to schedule multiple appointments for worsened illnesses.
He explains, “We’re moving far faster than ever before away from a system that is designed to be excellent for the patient when they present themselves because they are sick or injured to a system that basically envelopes them and engages with them non-stop.” (6)
To really drive this point home, Sara Heath writes in an article published by Patient Engagement, “When a patient can easily access a primary care or wellness visit, she may see a diminished likelihood of developing a more concerning illness down the line.” (7)
In May of last year, McKinsey and Company published an article to further support this type of preemptive care and states, “A major change in recent years is the shift in focus from disease treatment to health management, a term that encompasses wellness, healthy living, disease prevention, and rehabilitation.” (2)
In that same article, authors Bo Chen, Axel Baur, Marek Stepniak, and Jim Wang write, “New technologies have altered consumer expectations. An increasing number of today’s patients want healthcare services to be delivered with greater efficiency and in convenient, comfortable, near-normal settings.” (2)
I’d be remiss to not at least mention the effects of COVID-19 and its impact it has had on accelerating telemedicine in healthcare. While Telehealth was already on the scene for many healthcare practices, the pandemic definitely sky-rocketed its necessity and pushed it to the forefront of healthcare.
If healthcare providers haven’t already, prioritizing streamlining their Telehealth services is a relevant and necessary solution to providing increased patient access and provider availability.
According to the previously mentioned article published by Becker’s Hospital Review, patients’ out of pocket spending has increased by twelve percent since 2018, and consequently, so have their expectations of a quality healthcare experience.
The article elaborates by stating, “If you want to stay competitive, your patient engagement center must centralize patient intake and outreach, elevate practice productivity with digital engagement and improve the timeliness of care delivery.” (3)
I’ll leave you with one last quote from our Accenture Strategy study, “Those providers that develop strategies, capabilities and analytics that minimize barriers and enable the key elements of a superior patient experience – speed to access, convenience, information transparency and personalized service – will be best positioned to out-perform their peers.” (1)
What do patients really want? Access to their provider and their healthcare team pretty much on-demand. Like it or not, this is the consumer-driven healthcare environment that we live in today, which is here to stay.
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Jerry L. Stone