Consumerism has been a key trend in the healthcare industry for some time, but what this trend means, why it matters and how organizations are approaching it can vary a great deal. To get a better sense of how key industry leaders and professionals are thinking about and responding to healthcare consumerism today, HFMA and CareCredit are conducting an extensive, multi-phase research study. The results from the first phase are now available, and they offer a timely snapshot of this evolving trend and valuable insights for 2020 planning and beyond.
HFMA invited members to participate in an in-depth online survey over the summer, and 286 completed the survey. Participants hailed from all over the country, including both urban (61%) and rural (39%) markets, and included professionals working in both hospitals/medical centers (63%) and health system headquarters or corporate offices (27%). Roughly half of the participants were senior leaders (e.g., C-level executive, president, vice president), while another 41% held director-level positions. In terms of professional focus, 43% of respondents work in patient financial service or billing and collections, 25% are in finance, and the remainder span areas including operations, accounting, and patient access.
Not surprisingly, healthcare professionals define “healthcare consumerism” in a wide variety of ways, depending on what they’re seeing with their patients and the specific priorities of their organizations are responding. However, many of these diverse responses reflect underlying similarities that make it possible to see some clear categories emerging. For example, roughly 60% of all responses focused on the idea of informing, engaging and empowering patients to have greater control and responsibility for healthcare decision-making. Nearly one-third (29%) of the responses emphasized customer service in some way, such as treating patients as customers, providing better service or value and delivering experiences that meet or exceed expectations. Another 20% of responses focused specifically on transparency, such as providing cost and treatment information and enabling patients to shop based on price.
What this suggests is that healthcare leaders may see consumerism as a trend with enduring impact, requiring a profound shift in mindset (i.e., engaging and empowering patients as consumers), rather than a targeted operational initiative to achieve a specific objective (e.g., implement new technology or pricing). This aligns with the perceived importance of consumerism as well, with 87% of survey participants saying it is either very important or vital to their organizations. Response did vary somewhat based by type of organization and market, however, with medical groups/specialty practices and urban locations placing slightly less importance on consumerism than hospitals/headquarters and rural locations.
People, not pricing
To gain a deeper understanding of why consumerism has become such a focus for many healthcare leaders and professionals, participants were asked about the primary drivers of consumerism for their organizations. Interestingly, patient-centric goals ranked significantly higher than financial objectives. The consensus winner was patient satisfaction, which 68% of survey participants cited as a top driver of consumerism. This was followed by patient retention (56%), while improved financial performance (40%) came in fourth. Of least concern were were regulatory concerns (4%) and industry recognition (13%), while patient acquisition and competitive concerns finished in the middle of the pack.
All of this suggests, again, that organizations are largely approaching healthcare consumerism with a strong patient-centric focus, with technology, financial, regulatory, and market factors playing less of a role. In fact, most respondents (51%) cited patient relationships as their top priority related to consumerism. In contrast, just 32% listed information access as the top priority, and online patient tools were considered least important (20%).
Aspiration versus execution
As with any profound change, achieving specific goals related to healthcare consumerism can prove challenging. Perhaps because patient relationships are considered so important, this area represented the greatest disconnect between perceived importance (4.4) and effective execution (3.9), although 23% of respondents did consider their organization’s execution excellent, and only 1.5% claimed poor execution in this area. While participants felt their execution related to information access and online patient tools were somewhat less effective than their efforts to strengthen relationships, these areas were also lower priority (presumably making any shortfall less problematic).
To better understand what might be preventing organizations from fully achieving their goals, we asked what barriers they’re encountering when implementing patient-centric tactics. Surprisingly, technology concerns were the number-one obstacle, cited by nearly 20% of respondents. Staffing, operational and cost concerns rounded out the top four, with each selected by 16% of those surveyed. Far fewer pointed to issues like competing priorities (11%), or lack of a clear business case or internal champion (7% each). Again, this suggests a high level of awareness and a shared sense of importance and commitment related to consumerism. Gaining agreement on the need to act did not seem to be difficult. Instead, the challenges often lie in enacting the kinds of far-reaching changes needed to deliver patient-centric experiences effectively.
While the findings shared above represent some of the key takeaways from the research study, the survey also covered many other topics. Additional insights and a more detailed breakdown of responses are available in the March issue of hfm magazine.
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