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Beyond healthcare: What consumers want

Column | Leadership

Beyond healthcare: What consumers want


Image of Joseph J. Fifer

Joe Fifer

Employers aren’t the only healthcare purchasers concerned about value; consumers are deeply concerned about it, too. According to the West Health-Gallup panel, only 5% of the U.S. adult population believed that both their household and Americans, in general, were paying the right amount relative to the quality of healthcare they received and that their most recent care experience was worth the cost.

Exploring perceptions of value

About 45% of American adults in the panel were designated as observing “poor perceived value” in the healthcare system, while 50% observed “inconsistent perceived value.” The latter group includes people who deemed their own healthcare a good value, but didn’t believe that Americans in general received high-value healthcare.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that many consumers are dissatisfied with the value of healthcare services. They’ve been concerned about their financial responsibility for years. The Gallup panel reconfirmed this. It’s a serious issue, and one that continues to be on healthcare leaders’ radar screens.

Differentiating health from care

One question addressed by the West Health-Gallup panel respondents cut to the chase: Did your most recent care experience do anything to improve your health? Most respondents who perceived poor value in the healthcare system (again, representing 45% of the population) said it did not.

On one level, this makes sense. Social determinants of health (SDoH) affect a person’s health status much more than healthcare does, but the fee-for-service (FFS) payment model does not pay for efforts to address SDoH. Chronic conditions, mental health issues and substance use disorders affect many millions of people day in and day out, but FFS rewards procedures and diagnostics more than prevention and management of such conditions.

Organizing around consumers

There is another reason for the low value scores, in my opinion. Unlike other consumer sectors, the healthcare industry has a history of organizing business processes around the needs and wants of the producers, not the consumers. Now, consumer expectations are rising faster than legacy stakeholders’ ability to meet them. Perceptions of healthcare value are bound to be affected.

Scoping the challenge

What are the takeaway messages for healthcare leaders? For starters, recognize that any product or service perceived as high-value by just 5% of its customer base is facing existential threats. There are no quick fixes to a challenge of this magnitude.

First and foremost, we must change our mindset. Consumers should be at the center of everything we do. And our mission should encompass a role in improving health, not just healthcare. That means tackling some tough questions: What are the most cost-effective pathways to improving health? How can legacy stakeholders collaborate with others to address SDoH? How can we factor health equity into everything we do?

After two years of pandemic life, it can feel overwhelming to contemplate tackling a challenge like this. But being on the cusp of transformational change can also be invigorating. Getting back to normal is not necessarily the right goal. It’s time to reframe, to reimagine the future. I, for one, am confident that healthcare leaders are ready to meet this moment. 

About the Author

Joseph J. Fifer, FHFMA, CPA,

is president and CEO, HFMA, Westchester, Ill.

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