Time for health care industry to focus on consumers

The health care industry needs to adopt an old business principle: The customer comes first.

It’s that, or fall behind.

That’s the finding of a survey released Thursday by PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute, which says the health care industry needs to rev up the customer experience, especially as state exchanges open up a retail market for more than 23 million individual shoppers by 2018.

The in-depth survey of 6,000 consumers finds that when it comes to interacting with a hospital, doctor’s office or other health care provider, consumers are nearly twice as likely as those in the airline, hotel and banking industries to say that staff friendliness and attitude dictate whether the experience was positive or negative. A third of consumers said they would be willing to switch their health insurance or health care provider if another company offered a more “ideal experience.”

Personal experience is the top reason for choosing a doctor or hospital. That trumps price, which tops the reason for buying decisions in every other industry.

“The voice of the customer may be the best kept secret in health care, but that’s changing as consumers exert greater control over how their health care dollars are spent and exercise power to vote with their feet and wallets,” explains Kelly Barnes, U.S. Health Industries leader, PwC. “Hospitals and insurers are competing for loyal customers served by new care and coverage models in a more retail-oriented health market.”

Health care consumers say they’re less forgiving of providers with whom they have had a negative experience. Six out of 10 negative experiences are more likely to be remembered for longer in the provider industry compared to other industries, the survey finds. 

Consumers also care about convenience. The services they value most about are: facilities that offer multiple services in one location (69 percent); the ability to exchange information through online and mobile channels of communication (65 percent); patient education they receive during a visit (57 percent) and the cafeteria and access to WiFi and other entertainment (53 percent).

One of the key takeaways of the survey, HRI researchers say, is that health organizations should open up forums for customer feedback so they can proactively monitor and manage customer experiences.

“Lessons from other industries have slowly made their way into the health industry, but most health care companies—whether payer or provider—still have a ways to go before they can match the transparency, convenience and overall quality of experience individual consumers often demand in other sectors,” says Paul D'Alessandro, PwC health industries advisory principal and U.S. customer impact leader.

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