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Aetna SVP says it's time to ask consumers what they want from healthcare organizations

New research shows that consumers want increased flexibility in their access to healthcare.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Healthcare providers are operating in a world in which consumers are wielding more power than ever. They prop up their doctors of choice but many are just as happy to jump ship if they sense better services and quality in the facility across the street. 

While the rising tide of consumerism coming to healthcare is widely anticipated, new research from Aetna backs the trend up: People expect amenities, resources and access, and they want to be in control of their own well-being.

Put simply, it's about taking a holistic view of health. Consumers want avenues by which they can improve their mental health and reduce stress. They want increased flexibility in their access to healthcare, and they want tools and resources to help them reach their health goals. Providers, and even insurers, should take note, as consumers increasingly vote with their wallets.

Luckily, there are ways to meet these expectations. Dan Finke, senior vice president of Aetna's products and services division, has been exploring ways to better engage patients, and has seen promising potential in partnering with people to develop a care plan -- typically a three- to four-month engagement driven primarily by interactions in the community and in the home.

The most successful care plans have been built around chronic conditions, but they could also be tailored around other health goals the consumer may have. A care plan could be developed for people who are having trouble paying their copays, or buying a medical device. Sometimes people simply need a conduit to community resources, which hold potential to not only keep the person in better health but decrease utilization, which has a balming effect on industry costs.

"It's about being localized and being in the community," said Finke. "That can take the form of supporting them with a multidisciplinary team. It includes nurses and pharmacists, and beyond that, using databases of community resources … and overcoming some of the barriers of helping them achieve that."

Statistics from the survey bear out the importance of such an approach. About 60 percent of respondents said that if given an extra hour in the day, they would spend it on mental and physical wellbeing activities. More than one-third say they have either a stress reduction or mental health goal. Sixty-seven percent of women would spend an extra hour in the day on wellbeing activities, and 45 percent have a stress reduction health goal, compared to 28 percent of men.

Consumers cited increased flexibility and access to resources as the top two factors that would help them best achieve their health goals. Two-thirds, 66 percent, of respondents said it's very important that doctors have office appointments when they need them, and 59 percent say having access to other healthcare professionals who can coordinate care is very important.

"It all starts with asking the consumer questions about what they want to accomplish," said Finke, "and then taking those goals and translating them into habits that can impact their health, and then surrounding them with resources to help them achieve that. To help monitor that could be caregivers, friends, doctors. Patients are looking to their doctors for more help in achieving their health goals -- not just making sure they're taking the right tests at the right time. It's about stress and lifestyle habits that can address health."

The survey confirms that doctors play a critical role in supporting patients' holistic health goals. More than three quarters of consumers said it's important that their primary care physician be familiar with their mental health history (86 percent) and their ability to deal with stress (84 percent). And 30 percent of all respondents said direct conversations with a health and wellness specialist would help them achieve their health goals.

"The data shows that consumers demand they be at the center of healthcare, and they want more of a holistic and personalized approach, moving away from thinking about the condition the person has," said Finke. "It's changing everything we're thinking of. It's modifying the way we think of their full network of care. Thinking about how we move from that disease-state approach to more of a consumer-centered culture requires us to think beyond the narrow network of care, the doctor and the hospital. You have to think of them in the home, their family situation."

New care models such as value-based care, in which doctors are rewarded financially for improving patient outcomes, are creating opportunities to do just that. To illustrate, nearly two-thirds of doctors in value-based care models say they have good access to nutritionists as a supportive health resource, compared to 46 percent of doctors who are not in value-based care models.

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com

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