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Bar is rising for consumerism in healthcare, but providers are still playing catch-up

To keep pace with other industries, healthcare organizations will have to alter their approach to access and convenience.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Many industries these days cater to an increasingly online, convenience-obsessed and consumer-focused world, and while healthcare is no exception, it has a lot of catching up to do.

The results of Kaufman Hall's 2019 Healthcare Consumerism Index highlight the challenges that legacy healthcare providers face in trying to grasp a firm handhold on the ever-rising bar of consumer needs and expectations. The Index provides a lens to industry performance related to consumerism, based on survey responses from hospitals and health systems nationwide.

The index placed organizations in four main tiers. An organization in Tier 1 is defined as best-in-class across the four pillars of consumerism: access, experience, pricing, and infrastructure. Tier 4 organizations lack meaningful movement toward consumer-centric strategies across those areas.

Where organizations rank in those tiers shows there's room for improvement, highlighting the need for better and more thorough consumer-focused strategies in healthcare.

CONSUMER ACCESS

Hospitals and health systems continue to emphasize building facilities over creating convenience, the report found. While more than half of respondents offer urgent or ambulatory care centers, only a third offer widespread, basic online scheduling for existing patients.

Just 9% of organizations rated as Tier 1 performers for access, down 3 percentage points from 2018. Those in Tier 2 rose 6 percentage points over the same period, to 24% this year. Organizations rated as Tier 3 fell 23 percentage points, to 37% in 2019, while organizations in Tier 4 rose 20 percentage points over last year, to 30%.

Nearly 80 percent of organizations report having no subscription-based primary care services. A third offer widespread, online self-scheduling for existing patients, but few offer this service for new patients.

Same-day appointments, and extended and walk-in hours are common access strategies, and 38% of respondents offer widespread "Save a Spot" urgent care, while nearly 60% offer it on a limited basis or not at all.

Kaufman Hall's research unveiled some best practices for developing state-of-the-art consumer access. The first is to start with how best to serve consumer needs, rather than asking "How many facilities do we need?" or "Which real estate should we purchase?"

Organizations should also identify new growth-oriented metrics to determine access success, such as new unique patients captured. A priority should also be to provide multiple options across physical, virtual, and convenience dimensions for consumers to access the system; consumers are not homogeneous in their preferences and needs.

PATIENT EXPERIENCE

While improving consumer experience is a high priority for hospitals and health systems nationwide, few offer the real-time scheduling and communications necessary to keep pace with today's digitally connected consumers.

To deliver a great consumer experience, executives should make it a cultural priority throughout their organizations, supported by the necessary workflows and enabled by the right technology. Healthcare leaders should strive to offer an experience that's on par with leaders across industries, not just those within healthcare, the report found.

Enhancing communication has been a clear focus area for many hospitals and health systems, with a majority of respondents reporting widely available automated appointment reminders (72%), and centralized call routing (53%).

Fifty-five percent of organizations have widely available electronic messaging between patients and providers, while 34% have it with limited availability. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said their organizations offer same-day communication with a provider by phone on a widespread basis, while 53% provide limited availability to such services

Performance on offering other features to improve consumer experience is varied. Real-time communication offerings are particularly lacking: Sixty-six percent of organizations offer limited-to-no opportunities for real-time patient feedback. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said their organizations have limited-to-no real-time referral scheduling. Half of organizations offer no real-time updates on in-office wait times, while 38% offer such updates on a limited basis.

Best practices on the experience front include adopting a hospitality mindset: "delight," not "satisfaction." Organizations should fully address all aspects of creating an optimal consumer experience, including developing a service culture, patient-centered workflows, and enabling tools and technology, the report found.

In addition, hospitals and health systems should address the most important pain points across the entire care journey, not just during a specific touchpoint or episode of care. Focusing on specific touchpoints becomes meaningless if consumers encounter cascading issues at subsequent points in their journey.

PRICING AND INFRASTRUCTURE

Many legacy providers continue to take a traditional approach to pricing, focusing on what is "defensible" from a published charge basis, or rebalancing payer contracts for revenue neutrality, rather than responding to changing marketplace demand. Few offer true price transparency.

To remain competitive, organizations must recognize the need for new, consumer-driven delivery and pricing models, and effective strategies to conveniently communicate accurate price estimates to consumers, according to the report.

Just over half of hospitals and health systems have developed consumer-centric missions and strategies. For many, though, these efforts are not supported by a well-developed insights and analytics function, or consumer-based performance metrics. To be successful, organizations must adopt a comprehensive, consumer-driven orientation and culture system-wide.

THE LARGER TREND

Consumerism was voted one of the top healthcare trends in an April survey conducted by Definitive Healthcare, ranking second only to consolidation in the form of mergers and acquisitions. Consumerism garnered about 14 percent of the votes.

Consumerism ranked highly because patients are increasingly transforming into consumers who seek lower costs and convenience from their care providers, the survey found. Providers will have to work harder than ever to find and retain their patient populations.
 

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com