The Rise of the Practical Patient: What Do Healthcare Consumers Really Want?

Significant investment and discussion in healthcare technology centers around areas that push the boundaries of what’s possible today. Genetic testing, artificial intelligence, robotics and wearables hold the exciting promise of highly personalized care recommendations and outcomes. But what about the personalized everyday experience in healthcare?

When asked what they really want from the healthcare system today, consumers seek ease of access and visibility of cost. You heard it right: consumers want more control in their healthcare experience and feel like they aren’t getting it.

Together with the Urgent Care Association of America, Solv surveyed 1,386 Americans about their needs and attitudes when engaging with the U.S. healthcare system to understand more about this trend.

Consumers are choosing convenience > relationship

In the past, there was a stigma associated with urgent care, where it was often seen as a second-to-last resort, only in front of going to the ER. But in a world where it takes an average of 24 days to get an appointment with a new primary care physician, consumers are demanding a more convenient option for their healthcare needs. So much in our lives has moved to an “on-demand” model for critical and high quality services — we can sell homes, manage stock portfolios and consult legal experts with the tech on our phones. It’s not surprising, then, that patient behavior is changing too — so much so that 3 out of 4 consumers will not choose a doctor who can’t see them within one week.

Consumers are turning to convenient care, urgent care and retail clinics, to the tune of approximately 170M visits per year. Our study found that even when a consumer has a Primary Care Physician, less than half of Americans use their PCP as the first step in finding care. For people under the age of 45, this drops to 36%. There’s also a significant gap between the need for care and the availability of providers; in fact, next to “needed same-day attention,” survey respondents selected “convenient location and time” as their top reason for visiting.

Consumers want to understand their healthcare costs

High deductible health plans and increased copayment responsibilities are putting consumers on alert. Understandably, they want to know how much they’re going to pay for care before the bill comes. Despite this widespread desire, not much has changed to help consumers understand what their cost is going to be with their high deductible health plan, even expected to pay the full amount. The result is an astounding discrepancy between those patients asking for prices — 70% — and those receiving them — 23%. More shockingly, nearly half say they feel “stupid” for even asking.

Price transparency isn’t just for patients though. A RAND Corporation study reported that 14% to 27% of high-cost emergency department visits could be diverted to a lower-cost, convenient care location. Every 1% of care diverted translates to $1 billion in potential system savings. In a country where nearly a fifth of the GDP is spent on healthcare costs, managing these costs through increased visibility would be a worthwhile effort.

Consumers want the ease of booking online

Our survey asked patients what kind of healthcare technology would most meaningfully improve their experience in healthcare. As it turns out, the top technology requested by patients is something that restaurants, airlines, hair salons and yoga studios have had for over a decade — easy online and mobile booking. 67% of respondents indicated this as the most important, and surprisingly (or perhaps not, given their increasing healthcare needs), it was those age 45 to 60 requesting it the most.

When you consider that consumers have grown accustomed to doing nearly everything on their mobile phone, these findings are obvious. The astonishing part is the disconnect between consumer desire and their current healthcare experience. While nearly every other industry has been redefined through the use of mobile technology to smooth the “transaction”, healthcare continues to be years behind.

These “practical patients” may be the force that propels the healthcare industry forward as they demand visibility on cost and coverage, technology that enables ease of access, and increasingly choose providers willing to provide care on their schedules, versus the other way around.

Full report available here.