What Matters Most to Healthcare Consumers? Research Insights - Chester Wellness Centre

Today’s consumers are demanding more from their healthcare providers. Health care involves many players contributing to patient treatment, outcomes and satisfaction, including doctors, other healthcare professionals, hospitals, pharmacies, insurance companies, National Health Service providers and private providers. In addition, consumers are exploring alternative methods of treatment and services to support their healthcare needs.

Studies have explored patient attitudes toward treatment, needs and satisfaction to understand consumer expectations better. Each study demonstrates that there are common elements that healthcare consumers feel are important, including convenience, establishing an ongoing patient-provider relationship, developing trust and communication, ensuring access to information and exploring options for care with their providers. Transparency in cost is a significant concern for most consumers.

Studies show that the COVID-19 pandemic caused a shift in healthcare consumer behaviour and expectations. Surprisingly, convenience, cost and accessibility rank higher than the quality of care for many consumers.

Personalisation, Trust and Communication

The results of the surveys reviewed for this article show that a significant concern of healthcare consumers is establishing a long-term relationship with their primary care provider based on trust, communication and personalised interactions. Consumers want providers with good bedside manners, awareness of issues in patient lifestyles and an understanding of a patient’s stress factors that can affect health. Patients want their primary care providers to regard them as the whole person.

A survey by CVS Health (US Provider) shows that 81% of consumers want to communicate with their healthcare providers and have constructive conversations about their health issues and conditions. Consumers want providers to know their health history and be aware of their long-term health goals. Approximately 60% of consumers want primary care providers to be mindful of medications prescribed by specialists and facilitate communication between specialists and patients.

Consumers want doctors and providers to spend more time with them during exams and consultations. Many patients feel rushed through exams without providers taking the time to listen to their needs, health problems and issues that affect health. One study noted that consumers feel as if they are on a conveyor belt in a factory, shuffled through a system without meaningful conversations or staff willing to get to the root of a problem. They feel that finances drive the system instead of patient needs.

Most consumers recognise the relationship between stress, mental health and overall health. They understand that stress can affect physical health and worsen existing health problems. This is particularly true for those with diabetes, heart issues and the elderly. The majority want their primary care providers to suggest lifestyle changes that promote overall health and provide specialised or attendant care referrals.

Trust develops over time when healthcare consumers feel their providers know them and what issues they must deal with to maintain a healthy lifestyle. They want to know that their doctors consider alternatives and understand financial limitations that may affect their ability to comply with care recommendations. Consumers want their providers to treat them as whole persons to develop a long-term, mutually respectful relationship.

Convenience in Access to and Use of Care

A study by Deloitte showed that consumers place a high value on convenience. Although convenience was cited as necessary among all age groups, younger consumers indicated that ease of access to care affects how they integrate into health care systems. Long waiting times in doctors’ offices, delays in scheduling specialised tests, long commute times to care centres and availability of appointments on days and times convenient to the patient are essential variables. Time-saving conveniences, such as online appointment scheduling, requesting prescriptions online or by text, online pharmacies that deliver prescriptions to a patient’s home and virtual doctor consultations, also ranked high in importance.

Although digital connectivity to care ranked lowest in the survey, consumers still considered it important in deciding how to seek out and manage their care. The study by McKinsey & Company shows that the coronavirus pandemic changed consumer behaviour regarding health care. Before the COVID-19 crisis, approximately 3% of healthcare consumers reported using telemedicine appointments. In 2021, 24% of respondents reported using virtual means for health care consultations. The study notes that 47% of the consumers surveyed in the 2021 study used virtual consultations for their most recent mental health appointments.

Before 2020, only 4% of providers used telehealth technology for follow-up care because insurance coverage did not extend to virtual consultations. Now, providers offer more telehealth options, and insurance carriers offer more coverage options for virtual consultations. Virtual visits and follow-up care are particularly effective for established patients because a relationship exists between provider and consumer. They are also effective for patients who live in rural or underserved areas, those who do not have access to transportation or those with physical disabilities. There are limitations to the effectiveness of video consultations. Virtual consultations are not suitable when physical examinations are required. Providers must assess the suitability of virtual consultations based on a patient’s situation.

A study by AJMC noted that approximately 63% of those who used virtual video consultations found no difference between that and an office visit, and 83% reported that they would recommend it to others. More than half of the clinicians in the study reported higher efficiency and no drop in communication effectiveness.

Providers should note the expectations in access to care by different generations. Almost all consumers now use online and connected services to research options and pay for goods. Older healthcare consumers, however, may value or use digital technology less than younger consumers. Older adults often have special needs or require critical care services. They value quality service, trustworthiness and the reputation of the clinicians treating them. They rely on word-of-mouth recommendations and want a long-lasting, personal relationship with their providers. Older healthcare consumers usually respect and follow a doctor’s advice and want traditional healthcare treatment.

In contrast, younger consumers give more importance to digital options and convenience in managing their health and accessing health care. They want a whole-person approach to their care that addresses physical and mental health. They want access to their health care records and online scheduling and are more open to telehealth consultations. They are also more likely to use alternative medicine, use wearable devices and ask for self-care and preventive care options. They are more likely to change providers if they have a negative experience or find a provider who offers more time-saving conveniences.

Barriers to Care

Underserved populations experience many barriers to care, including ease of access, financial limitations, lack of provider cultural sensitivity and poor coordination of multiple needs. A study by the Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation surveyed marginalised healthcare consumers, including those with disabilities, low-income consumers, persons of colour, the elderly and those who speak languages other than English. The study found that social and economic pressures affected access to health care and contributed to higher health risks and poor outcomes.

Most participants in the study felt that establishing a relationship with a primary care provider was important. They expressed the need for a whole-person approach and the wish to develop an ongoing relationship based on trust and dignity with their provider. Most want clinicians to understand their social, cultural and financial needs and physical health needs. These consumers want providers to show empathy, have meaningful conversations, take time to explain conditions and treatment and listen to their needs and concerns. In addition, several expressed the need for a healthcare provider who spoke their language, noting that language barriers affect communication and understanding.

Many participants in the study were unaware of existing public assistance programmes that could help consumers access to care for themselves and their families. Several also feared that using public assistance programmes might result in losing their children because of housing insecurity, substance abuse or other instabilities. They recognised the importance of good mental health and the effect of stress and anxiety on overall health.

They appreciated the value of a one-stop shop offering family counselling and mental health, medical and social services in one resource centre. They also expressed the desire for a counsellor or coordinator to help connect them to services.

Last Thoughts

The common theme of the studies shows that healthcare consumers of all ages and economic backgrounds want to establish a relationship with a primary care provider. Consumers would like their providers to treat them as whole people, considering their mental and overall health. They would like providers to ask about stress and anxiety affecting health and discuss care and treatment options that work with their unique situation. Many are open to telehealth options that eliminate travel time while allowing one-on-one interaction with clinicians. Although using digital tools are not of primary concern to most consumers, younger people are more comfortable with this medium, and many expect digital access to information, scheduling and other aspects of the healthcare system.

Providers should consider the needs of their clientele and offer a variety of options that suit the expectations of a broad consumer population.

 

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