Health IT

Study: Patients value expertise but really want price comparison tool, online EMR access

Healthcare consumers are about as satisfied with their last visits to the doctors as they are with their last hotel stays, car purchases and department store visits. It could be worse, right? But it also could be better. Consumers’ decisions are becoming increasingly powerful, and physicians should be concerned about some of the disparities between […]

Healthcare consumers are about as satisfied with their last visits to the doctors as they are with their last hotel stays, car purchases and department store visits.

It could be worse, right?

But it also could be better. Consumers’ decisions are becoming increasingly powerful, and physicians should be concerned about some of the disparities between what these consumers want from a doctor and what they’re getting, suggests new data and analysis from Harris Interactive.

“Customer experience matters in healthcare and will continue to impact purchasing decisions and customer retention,” said Debra Richman, senior vice president of Healthcare Business Development & Strategy for Harris.  “The healthcare consumer is increasingly evaluating brand equity, convenience and product or service value as they make choices.”

The research firm conducted an online poll in July asking more than 2,300 U.S. adults about their preferences and decision-making process when considering doctors’ appointments. (Note: The Harris Poll weighted results to align certain demographics with their actual proportions in the population.) Although nearly half of the 84 percent of respondents who visited a doctor’s office in the last year reported satisfaction with their visits, they also indicated that certain technologies they’re wanting aren’t being provided to them.

Cost estimates

The biggest disparity that the survey found between what patients want and what they’re getting is an online cost estimator. While 62 percent of respondents who visited a doctor in the last year indicated this was an important or very important technology for healthcare providers to offer, only 6 percent of them report having access to one.

But some of these consumers might be looking in the wrong place. Although the physician seems like the ideal place to consult for cost estimates, the complex nature of reimbursement makes it hard for doctors to estimate exact costs.

However, most of the big insurance players like Aetna, Cigna, UnitedHealth Group, etc., offer these transparency tools in at least some form, but only some of them include the ability to compare allowed physician fees.

Third-party companies are jumping in, too. MD Clarity has a SaaS product to help doctors understand and analyze the price of healthcare services, and Castlight Health is helping consumers find doctors and estimate the costs associated with their visits.

Online medical record access

Surprisingly, only about one in six of those who had seen a doctor in the last year reported having online access to their medical records, although two-thirds of them considered it important or very important.

While Meaningful Use requires providers to share data with patients, and some health providers like Kaiser Permanente have begun offering it either online or through a mobile app, this, too, isn’t as easy as it might seem. A review published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association cited the high cost of integrating patient access features into existing EMR systems, the fragmentation of health data, lack of understanding about privacy implications and the inability of patients without medical knowledge to understand their information.

Proactive communication from doctors

Fifty-seven percent of the respondents who saw a doctor in the last year deemed email or text reminders to schedule preventive care appointments as important or very important. Although more doctors’ office are implementing electronic prompting systems, only 12 percent of patients reported having access to mobile reminders.

The health IT industry has responded to this one as well. Programs from companies like Patient Prompt mine physicians’ scheduling systems to generate protocols for these kinds of messages and TeleVox and CellTrust enable them.

Here are a few other interesting points from the survey:

  • Other desired technologies that less than 15 percent of patients reported having access to include email communication with doctors, online appointment scheduling and online billing and payment.
  • Respondents reported that a doctor’s overall knowledge, training and expertise, along with his access to their medical histories and time spent with them, were most important in determining their satisfaction.
  • The least important factors were appearance/atmosphere of the doctor’s office and minimizing paperwork.
  • Two-thirds of patients said they were likely to use retail clinics for flu shots, and more than half said they would use retail clinics for treatment of cold or flu-like symptoms or a cut or puncture wound.
  • Only one in four would be likely to go to a retail clinic for a regular checkup.

[Photo from flickr user Mercy Health]