Communicating value in the age of healthcare consumerization

The concept of the patient-consumer has been heavily debated in recent years.

Some people in the healthcare industry believe patients are in a power position when it comes to making their healthcare decisions and thus, should be treated as consumers; others counter that patients still need the expert direction of their providers and that those patients would benefit more from a partner approach. Regardless of which side you’re on, though, the fact remains that there is a fundamental behavioral shift occurring in health care, and providers across all disciplines must adapt.

The very nature of healthcare consumerism is changing the way patients want (and expect) to receive care—as well as when and where they want to receive it. In fact, patients are taking control of their healthcare journey from the very beginning by researching provider and care options online. Today, patients are also more engaged in—and informed about—their conditions and outcomes than they’ve ever been before.

There are several forces driving this change. Chief among them:
● the rise of consumer-focused healthcare technologies that are giving patients access to near-endless information about their personal health, and
● the increasing amount of financial responsibility that falls squarely on patients’ shoulders.

As a result, patients are increasingly taking it upon themselves to find the right provider—as opposed to relying on physician or health insurance referrals. After all, these patients are footing a substantial portion of their bills—which means that, compared to patients in decades past, today’s patients are significantly more selective about the care they seek.

High out-of-pocket costs often drive patients out of network.
Furthermore, as higher co-pays and deductibles continue to shift the financial burden onto patients—thus encouraging them to take their health care into their own hands—many have begun to seek out more cash-based or out-of-network services.

In fact, based on our own qualitative research, we’ve identified a shift in mindset among patients—namely, that if they’re going to be paying out-of-pocket in the form of copays and deductibles anyway, then they might as well get the most value for their dollar. As such, many patients are choosing cash-based or out-of-network providers in the name of obtaining the best possible experience and the highest-quality care.

This is especially evident in areas of health care like physical therapy, which fall under the “specialist” umbrella—and thus, aren’t as well covered by most traditional insurance policies. But even in the case of non-speciality services, patients have become more savvy about doing their homework before stepping into a provider’s office, turning to resources like online reviews and forums to collect information from their peers. And modern patients not only have access to more external feedback channels than ever before, but also wield a much more influential voice thanks to things like online review sites and social media platforms. You can bet this is shaping the course of care they choose to take.

Providers can leverage data to engage patients.
Numerous major consumer brands are entering the healthcare market, further driving the consumerization of health care. Thus, providers must be prepared to meet patients where they are by leveraging the right data and gaining deep insights into the entire patient journey. This goes beyond tracking general performance, satisfaction, and outcomes—which, of course, should already be part of providers’ established processes. Additionally, providers should be leveraging real-time data to track patient loyalty, pinpoint trends, and prevent patient dropout.

Many providers in the outpatient clinic setting are already distributing satisfaction questionnaires to patients upon discharge. However, by waiting until the end of treatment, those providers miss out on critical patient data, especially from patients who drop out before the end of their care plan. Plus, this form of data collection isn’t reliable, because:
1. patients who have completed their course of care are most likely going to be satisfied, and
2. it’s much less likely that patients will provide honest feedback if they’re doing so in the clinic or office, surrounded by the individuals they’re supposed to be reviewing.

Additionally, many satisfaction surveys aren’t sensitive enough to collect actionable data. In other words, you may know that a patient is dissatisfied, but you may not obtain enough information about what caused the dissatisfaction to do anything about it. And even if you’re able to collect details, you may not have enough time to remedy the situation before the patient is on his or her way out the door.

On the flipside, providers who use Net Promoter ScoreⓇ (NPSⓇ) tracking are able to gain actionable feedback frequently enough to respond in near real-time—as well as identify loyal and disloyal patients. And it’s incredibly simple, which makes it easy to implement. The NPS survey asks patients one simple question: On a scale from zero to 10, how likely is it that you would you recommend this clinic to a friend or colleague?

The responses are powerful indicators of each patient’s perception of the practice, and providers can use the information garnered to identify:
1. relationships that may need to be repaired, and
2. potential brand ambassadors who can be tapped for online reviews or word-of-mouth referrals.

Additionally, by uncovering the data behind a patient’s journey, providers can reveal compelling trends. By starting with the patient’s very first step in that journey—how he or she initially finds a provider—and collecting information at specific intervals all the way through discharge, providers can gain powerful insights about marketing outreach, activation and retention, clinical outcomes, and bottom-line revenues. This is particularly important in our current value-based care environment.

Additionally, this data is tied directly to clinical reputation in the marketplace. Half of Millennials and Gen-Xers—and even 40 percent of Baby Boomers—use online reviews to select their providers. That means therapists need to not only keep a pulse on patient satisfaction data, but also leverage the social-proof power of their happiest customers by asking for reviews.

It’s imperative to communicate value at each touchpoint.
There is an opportunity for providers to capitalize on a growing market of patient-consumers who are searching for the best value in health care. When providers can position the value they provide in a resonant way—for example, by providing objective patient outcomes, satisfaction, and loyalty data—then they can connect with potential patients who are in the market for value-based care. But it all comes back to delivering and selling value to each individual patient—and that starts with knowing your patients and what they find valuable.

This is imperative even for providers who are still being paid based on patient and service volume—especially providers like physical therapists, whose treatment plans typically require repeat visits. After all, the cost per visit can be prohibitive, and it may cause patients to drop out of care early—if they don’t believe in the value of the care they’re receiving, that is. Thus, wise providers are doing everything in their power to improve the patient experience and present their value—sell themselves, so to speak—in a way that is meaningful to their patients.

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