Hospitals falling short on consumer demands

While hospitals may say new patient engagement and consumer-friendly strategies are a priority, only 8 percent were applying such practices successfully according to a report from Kaufmann, Hall & Associates.

The 2017 State of Consumerism in Healthcare report put more than 125 hospitals and health systems into four rating tiers based on their level of engagement in “consumer-based strategies,” including applying what patients say to planning or investment decisions, expanding access through retail clinics, telehealth, or online scheduling, addressing common consumer complaints and making price information available to consumers.

Only 8 percent of providers were ranked in the top tier, illustrating that “meeting consumer expectations is a high priority” and new capabilities are being applied with some success. The greatest share was in the third tier, a rating earned by 37 percent of survey participants, where these initiatives were a “medium to low priority.”

“The findings should serve as a wake-up call for hospital and health system leaders across the country," Paul Crnkovich, managing director with Kaufman Hall, said in a statement. “In the age of Amazon and Netflix, consumers expect more from their healthcare providers. For healthcare executives, consumerism should not be just another item to be checked off a list. It should be a core capability, as it is key to long-term growth.”

The issue didn’t appear to be enthusiasm over “core consumerism objectives,” but rather a provider’s ability to implement them:

  • 90 percent of organizations identified improving the consumer experience as a high priority, but only 30 percent have built capabilities to do so
  • 73 percent identified developing a diverse set of facility-based access points as a high priority, but just 25 percent have the needed capabilities
  • 58 percent identified offering digital tools and information to enable consumer engagement as high priorities, but just 14 percent have those capabilities.

The report doesn’t blame the lack of progress all on investing in new technology, however. It found organizations have been slow to accept nontraditional care options, like virtual visits, and seem to default to being more reactive in responding to issues surrounding a patient’s experience. They also appear to be defaulting to tried-and-true methods of gaining insights from consumers, with 97 percent of respondents saying they rely on post-visit patient surveys, which the report criticized as having low response rates.

“Consumer insights are applied inconsistently overall,” the report said. “Organizations that use multiple means of gathering consumer insights rarely collate and apply them in a consistent way to drive key strategies and decisions.”

Pricing was the area where the report found consumer-based strategies most lacking. The report found few organizations ere implementation new price transparency efforts like listing prices on their website (22 percent), offering an out-of-pocket price estimate tool (20 percent) or contracting with cash market websites (2 percent). Few patients are making use of available pricing tools, according to a recent Health Affairs study, but health systems have also recognized a need to better explain costs of service to patients, with two out of three not being able to pay their bills in full.

The conclusion the report drew was health systems need to rethink their approach their consumer-based strategies and not allow efforts to get “siloed into its own little niche,” as one survey described it.

“It is not just one initiative to be lumped in with the many, but rather an overarching capability and mindset that should be integral to them all,” the report said. “Organizations must develop a deep and nuanced understanding of their consumers—from demographics to health status to attitudes and behaviors—and use those insights to not only meet consumer needs, but to anticipate unidentified current and future needs.”