NRC Health Trends Report Uncovers the Forces Shaping Healthcare Consumerism

Report Compiles Patient Feedback and Expert Insights; Offers Recommendations to Address 2019 Challenges

LINCOLN, Neb., Dec. 21, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- NRC Health, the leading provider of in-depth customer intelligence in healthcare, today released its new 2019 Healthcare Consumer Report. Based on insights from over a million healthcare consumers nationwide, coupled with insights from respected healthcare leaders across the country, NRC Health’s report reveals the forces that shape healthcare consumer opinion and offers advice for how hospitals and health systems can address their biggest challenges, improve the patient experience, and drive consumer loyalty. 

For the last three years, hospital volumes have been largely flat, with some large health systems reporting significant declines, and many hospitals are struggling to attract and retain patients. Healthcare consumers don’t just want excellent care, they want care delivered with more ease, convenience, and choice. And to thrive in the consumerist era of healthcare, health systems must focus their institutional attention on finding new ways to deliver care experiences that meet the modern consumer’s expectations.

Consumer Sentiments Highlight Gap Between Provider Relationships and the Care Experience
Consumer confidence in the healthcare industry has been on the wane for some time. Yet, 87 percent of patient comments praise clinicians’ courtesy and respect, according to NRC Health. But where patients speak positively about their physicians and nurses, they’re less likely to rave about their broader service experiences. In fact, patients’ 67 percent of patients feel less respected by non-clinical staff they encounter.

“Patients’ largely split verdict on health systems highlights the need for hospitals to examine the accompanying parts of the care experience that leave patients feeling unsatisfied,” said NRC Health President Steve Jackson. “The data reveals that hospitals have a problem if patients are walking away feeling positive about their provider but negative about their entire care experience. Hospitals have an opportunity to develop inventive solutions that will help fill the gap and build loyalty with patients and turn them into lifelong relationships.”

Do Healthcare Alternatives Pose A Threat to Provider-Patient Relationships?
More than half of patients cite convenient, easily accessible care as the most important factor in their healthcare decision-making. This desire has manifested itself in the growth of non-traditional providers, like retail clinics and telehealth, that simplify the healthcare experience for consumers. 2004, the number of retail providers has swelled by 500 percent, the number of primary care office visits declined by 18 percent from 2012 to 2016, and nearly 60 percent of employers now offer some form of digital healthcare appointments to employees.

“We have to realize that our consumers have a lot of choices. That means an episodic take on care experiences doesn’t work anymore,” said Preston Gee, vice president of strategic marketing at Texas-headquartered CHRISTUS Health. “We have to adopt more continuous relationship-building. If we don’t, patients will just go someplace else.”

“If hospitals want to improve patient relationships and keep patients within their facilities, they will need to build sustainable models to support frontline staff and free up their time,” said Joe Ness, Chief Operating Officer at OHSU Healthcare. “Because healthcare’s a people business. There’s no substitute for that.”

Affordability Concerns Have Patients Deferring Care
Non-traditional alternatives undoubtedly pose a threat to health system volumes, but another force is having a depressive effect on patient visits: deferment of care.

In both 2017 and 2018, NRC Health’s Market Insights data found that 23 percent of patients have put off “necessary medical treatment” due to high service costs, the highest percentage since 2010. Without the opportunity to intervene, diagnose and treat potentially serious conditions, these patients are likely to get worse over time, which ultimately increases the costs of care and leads to worse outcomes. Perhaps most concerning is that experts don’t see healthcare getting any more affordable. Hospitals’ already thin margins leave little room to discount service prices and as costs inevitably climb, the prices presented to patients are likely to rise creating a vicious cycle.

Facing Down Uncertainty
“There’s no doubt that consumerism poses considerable challenges for healthcare leaders,” said Jackson. “Consumer ambiguity, shifting sentiments, emergent competitive threats — these have all fundamentally changed the landscape facing health systems today.”

Compounding the challenge is how unprecedented these trends are. New technologies, new service models, new expectations from patients are pushing providers into unfamiliar territory. One certainty, though, is that the strategies of yesterday are no longer sustainable. If healthcare organizations are to thrive in a consumerist future, they will need to hear what consumers are telling them. They’ll need to face their patients’ demands without flinching. And they’ll need to pursue bold experimentation, backed by robust data and true human understanding, to uncover the solutions to serve tomorrow’s patients.

“The era of provider-driven healthcare strategy is over,” added Gee. “It takes a while to turn a super-tanker, but we’ll need to do it to survive. We can’t just wait for people to show up at our doorstep anymore.” 

A copy of the report is available for download. 

About NRC Health
For 37 years, NRC Health (NASDAQ: NRC) has been committed to achieving human understanding and bringing healthcare organizations closer to their customers than ever before by illuminating and improving the key moments that define an experience and build trust. Guided by their uniquely empathic heritage, proprietary methods, skilled associates, and holistic approach, NRC Health helps its customers design experiences that exceed expectations, inspire loyalty, and improve well-being among patients, residents, physicians, nurses, and staff.

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