Four-star review If a patientleaves a positive comment about admission or registration, they are46 times more likely to be a promoter for a health care brand.(Image: Shutterstock)

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It's the age of consumerism and with it, the increased demandfor speed, convenience and ease – and it's no different for thehealth care sector, according to NRC Health's 2020 Healthcare Consumer Trends Report.

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"For health care's leaders, of course, this is no surprise," theauthors write. "In fact, an overwhelming majority of them agreethat health care organizations can learn a lot about engagementfrom other consumer-facing industries. But it remains a challengeto move from this kind of broad strategic insight to the specifictactics that will make it meaningful."

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Related: Consumers are willing to shop around for a moretransparent health care experience

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NRC compiled results from a number of sources, including its owndatabase of more than two million patient feedback comments, aswell consumer data from Market Insights' database. One top linepreference: 62 percent of consumers are open to digital channels ofcare delivery, if it means more expedient access tocare, and a third of patients gave feedback that theywould prefer to book their own appointments online.

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The younger set particularly expects this: 69 percent ofmillennial and Gen Z consumers are likely to choose providers basedon the availability of digital services, and 61 percent of them arewilling to switch providers over a subpar digital experience.

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"Developing such capabilities is clearly in health systems' bestinterest," the authors write. "Streamlining access will not onlyimprove an organization's ability to attract new consumers — NRCHealth's research has found it will also prove an increasinglyvital component of consumer retention."

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It's also important to make sure the in-person experience isstreamlined as well, according to the report. For example, if apatient leaves a positive comment about admission orregistration, they are 46 times more likely to be a promoter for ahealth care brand, compared to similar patients who leave negativecomments about these features.

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Similarly, consumers with positive comments about wait times are20 times more likely to be promoters than patients who leavenegative comments about wait times.

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"These indications show that, for health systems looking tomaximize both immediate and long-term appeal to consumers,alleviating points of friction within the process may be one of themost important tactics to pursue," the authors write.

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It's also critical to make invoices transparent and understandable – and of course,as affordable as possible.

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"Billing-related issues remain a consistent source offrustration for consumers," the authors write. "Enduring customerloyalty will, in large part, depend on health care organizations'efforts to resolve them. The closer health care encounters come tofrictionless experiences, the better patient perceptions willbe."

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The discharge process could also be improved, according to bothpatient and consumer comments.

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The majority of patient comments, across all age groups, expressdissatisfaction with what happens when patients leave anorganization. Millennial and Gen Z consumers appear to feel thisdissatisfaction most acutely, with 70 percent of theirdischarge-related comments being negative. They would prefer more"high-touch" service interactions: 65 percent of the younger setare eager to accept daily check-ins from their providers, and 70percent of them are likely to prefer providers who can follow upwith them via text message.

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For all generations, 74.8 percent of consumers expect afollow-up within two days of a service problem. After just oneweek, 66.29 percent of consumers say that unaddressed serviceissues are "irreparable."

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"Consumers' expectations are rising at a pace that nearlyoutstrips providers' ability to satisfy them," the authors write."Daunting as these challenges can seem, they also representopportunities — and forward-thinking organizations may yet learnhow to seize them. Early adopters of a consumer-driven model ofcare will be well-rewarded by their differentiated position in themarketplace."

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Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in Running Springs, Calif. She has more than three decades of journalism experience, with particular expertise in employee benefits and other human resource topics.