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3 Factors Swaying Patient Decisions for Treatment Facilities

Patient decisions for treatment facilities are driven by quality care reports, convenience, and cost.

What drives patient decisions for treatment facilities?

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- In the age of healthcare consumerism, patients are increasingly activated in their own healthcare. This includes in making decisions for treatment facilities at which patients wish to receive their care.

Patients are largely spending their own healthcare dollars because of rising deductibles and healthcare premiums. As a result, it’s important to patients to receive care at a facility that meets their needs.

But what are those needs? Are patients looking for upscale amenities such as comfortable beds and gourmet food? Or are patients more interested in practical factors, such as accepting insurance or facility location?

Recent research has indicated that patients and providers are not always on the same page about what is important to patients when making decisions about their treatment facilities.

Below, PatientEngagementHIT.com clarifies some of that confusion and outlines the top factors that contribute to patients’ decisions about their treatment facility.

Provider credentials, hospital quality

READ MORE: CMS Hospital Star Ratings Release Met with Provider Dismay

Patients highly value hospital quality and provider credentials. Patients want to ensure they are receiving the highest quality of care and that they will not suffer from any preventable, hospital-acquired harms.

A 2017 survey from locum tenens provider Weatherby Healthcare found that 54 percent of patients choose a facility based on its hospital affiliation. Patients prefer visiting facilities that are associated with hospitals and health systems with good reputations in the region.

And although patients are generally unconcerned with a clinician’s demographic profile, the survey of 500 adult patients revealed that most patients do take note of age, likely because age can indicate a provider’s experience.

Patient-facing resources displaying hospital quality are extremely useful for patient decision-making. CMS has published its hospital star ratings with the intent to help patients make decisions about their treatments. Although healthcare professionals are torn as to whether the star ratings adequately convey hospital experience, the ratings are designed to be simple enough for laypeople to understand.

Other entities have similar patient-facing hospital quality ratings. The Leapfrog Group uses a traditional grading system to show patients hospital safety, according to the organization’s Director of Communications and Development Erica Mobley.

READ MORE: What Providers Should Know to Improve Patient Access to Healthcare

“A lot of times we hear from people saying that they wish they had this information available before they chose a hospital,” Mobley said in a previous interview. “If they have a negative experience with a hospital, and then they see it was a hospital that got a C or a D, wishing that they had known that information beforehand.”

“Our data is the most valuable when you have time to think about where you’d like to go for a certain procedure like having a baby or a hip replacement – something that isn’t an emergency so you have time to think about it,” she continued.

Going forward, healthcare organizations need to better market these tools. Patient-facing quality data can be helpful in making a healthcare decision, but only if the patient knows where to look for that data.

A streamlined, convenient process

A convenient healthcare encounter encompasses several factors for patients, including easy appointment scheduling, close location, and short wait times.

A recent survey from Kelton Global on behalf of West Healthcare found that patients foremost valued convenient scheduling options at their chosen provider. Convenient scheduling simplifies the healthcare experience for patients and ensures patients see the correct provider for their specific ailment.

READ MORE: Top Strategies for Collecting Patient Financial Responsibility

The Kelton Global survey also revealed that patients want shorter wait times. Increasing patient wait times are currently plaguing the healthcare industry. Between provider shortages and an influx of patients accessing care due to expanded payer coverage, wait times have been increasing in recent years.

Healthcare organizations that can streamline their appointment scheduling process and increase the number of employed clinicians may be able to mitigate wait time issues and increase their patient market share.

Healthcare organizations can also look into offering more facility options. This can diffuse patient volume and meet patient location preferences.

The Weatherby Healthcare survey found that 70 percent of patients look for a hospital, provider, or clinic that is close to home or within the patient’s preferred travel distance.

This location phenomenon can partially explain the rise of retail clinics and urgent care centers. These smaller care sites treat the most common healthcare emergencies or ailments, from strep throat diagnoses in the retail clinic to splinting a broken finger in urgent care. These facilities are typically accessible in multiple locations and make it easier for patients to receive care.

Out-of-pocket costs, affordability

As noted above, more and more patients are paying out-of-pocket for their healthcare. However, increasing healthcare costs are keeping patients from accessing potentially necessary healthcare services.

A 2016 survey from the Physicians Foundation found that despite high patient satisfaction, fewer patients are accessing primary care because of unaffordable costs.

Most patients are looking for providers who offer their services at a lower price point. Seventy-five percent of patients are looking for treatment at an overall lower cost, according to the Weatherby Healthcare survey.

The need for lower costs may also partially explain the rise of retail clinics and urgent care centers. These facilities have a smaller financial footprint and therefore can offer their services at a lower cost for patients.

Healthcare consumers are also looking for more price transparency. In instances where a high bill may be unavoidable – such as receiving a surgery – patients want to know how much they will need to pay before the service is rendered.

It is also important for patients to access treatment in facilities that accept their payer coverage. Seventy-seven percent of respondents in the Weatherby Healthcare survey said they would not visit a provider if their insurance is not accepted, regardless of hospital quality or convenience.

It is important for healthcare organizations to understand the factors that drive a patient’s decision to receive care in a specific facility. If a hospital or clinic wants to grow its market share, it would be beneficial to understand the characteristics that their specific, regional population values.

Patients and providers may have different opinions about what constitutes a positive care experience, or varying understandings of what the patient wants. Organizational leaders can consult patient surveys and national data to target their facility improvement projects to help drive a larger market share in the future.

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