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Patient-Provider Interaction Top Priority for Health Consumers

A recent Deloitte survey shows how patients prioritize their healthcare, with patient-provider interactions ranked highest and digital health tools ranked lowest.

Patient-provider interactions are top-of-mind for healthcare consumers, while use of digital tools isn’t as important, according to the Deloitte 2016 Consumer Priorities in Healthcare Survey.

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The survey of nearly 1,800 patients asked respondents to rank 64 healthcare interactions in a fantasy sports style bracket, ultimately pointing to the facet of care they value the most. The survey showed four clear interaction categories ranked one after the other with some overlap.

Patients ranked interpersonal interactions and relationships the highest, followed by care cost effectiveness, convenient access to healthcare, and use of digital technology. According to Deloitte, these findings have implications for both healthcare providers and health insurance plan offerings.

Positive patient-provider interactions, relationships

Personalized interactions and positive patient-provider relationships took the top six spots, showing that patients primarily value meaningful relationships with their providers.

“Consumers trust their providers and want personalized experiences with them,” Deloitte said in its report. “Good ‘bedside manner,’ after all these years, is still something the typical health care consumer demands.”

Patients highly prioritized providers who take their time with them and do not rush appointments, who show that they are listening to them, who offer self-care instructions, and who provide clear information on diagnoses.

The survey also revealed that some patient populations value positive provider interactions more than others. Hispanic patients, for example, emphasized the importance of providers sharing care instructions with family members and caregivers more than twice as much as other groups.

Additionally, older patients scored provider interactions even higher than other age groups did, showing that aging patients could especially benefit from a strong relationship with their providers.

To support these priorities, Deloitte says health plans can rethink how they offer services inside and outside the office and provide personalized support to families and communities.

Health plans should also rethink the role of consumer experience teams, giving them a bigger role in plan development and asking them to collect more patient-centered information from providers and practice managers.

Cost effective healthcare

Patients gave the second highest ranking to affordable coverage and care choices. Specifically, patients want affordable care, no surprises on their medical bills, in-network providers, notifications when insurance will not cover part of their treatment, and accurate cost estimations.

The survey also showed that patients are more concerned with short-term financial decisions. Instead of engaging in conversations about long-term financial and health planning, patients tended to report discussions about short-term care.

During focus group conversations, patients spoke at length about medical billing procedures and consistency of insurance plans, Deloitte reported.

“The scores for these interactions may indicate that there is a set of ‘table stakes’ interactions that, when absent, cause a consumer’s perception of their overall experience health care experience to be lower,” the report said.

In order to support these needs, health plans can offer more price transparency, reassess plans to simplify and standardize coverage, and retool health plan marketing to help patients access in-network providers and understand how the network functions.

Convenient access to healthcare

The third patient priority was convenient access to healthcare, the survey indicated, specifically touching on healthcare access for patients without chronic disease.

Foremost, patients want help finding the right doctor for their health needs. Additionally, patients want short wait times, customer service and billing agent assistance, and appointments that are available when it is convenient for them.

Focus group discussions revealed that patients also want the ability to search for physicians based on both convenience and quality of care.

“Consumers want the best they can get, as quickly as they can get it, so long as insurance sufficiently covers the cost,” the report noted.

Health plans are in an optimal position to improve healthcare access, Deloitte said, noting that they should learn more about what different patient populations need from their providers and then marketing directly to them. Health plans can also create provider finding tools and cover care in convenient locations such as retail clinics.

Integration of digital technology

Digital technology for care management was ranked lowest.

Patients did not prioritize online appointment scheduling, patient-generated health data, telemedicine capabilities, online health resources or health communities, or access to electronic health trackers - at least not as highly as other tested factors.

These findings are surprising, Deloitte said, because patients are using technology in several other parts of their daily lives.

“So why is ‘digital’ registering as less important in this survey?” the report questioned. “One interpretation, supported by what we observed in our focus group, is that there are low levels of digital health awareness and usage of digital resources.”

In order to bridge this technological divide, Deloitte suggests providers concentrate on what the patient wants and needs.

“Focus digital investments on the health care interactions that matter most to consumers: provider experience and affordability,” the report offered. “By focusing on what’s most important to consumers, plans can drive better and broader digital adoption and earn the permission space to digitally engage consumers for other reasons.”

Understanding patient preferences can help healthcare providers and insurance plans offer services that will better suit all patient needs, Deloitte said. Patients are often faced with several different care options and have to contend with a sometimes confusing payment system.

“And, as we all know, the stakes are much higher in health care than in typical consumer transactions,” the report said. “Given these complex and evolving dynamics, having an in-depth understanding of consumer attitudes and behaviors has never been more important for health care players.”

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