Posted: 19 Jan. 2023 5 min. read

Innovation could help health systems meet consumer expectations

By Elizabeth Baca, M.D., MPA, managing director, Deloitte Consulting, LLP, and Leslie Korenda, manager, Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, Deloitte Services LP

The world appears to be increasingly revolving around consumers. Everything from banking, to shopping, to entertainment has become highly digital, highly customizable, and highly responsive. When it comes to the consumer experience, however, health care often seems to be a step or two behind other sectors. As consumers become accustomed to certain conveniences in their lives, they could grow dissatisfied with the care they receive if it fails to meet their expectations.

Many people are willing to switch physicians/sites of care if they don’t feel their needs are being met, according to an online survey of 4,545 US adults conducted by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions (see Transforming how physicians practice and consumers engage). In addition, inflation has made some consumers particularly sensitive to the perceived value of the care (see Inflation signals unrest ahead for health care). Increased cost-sharing through deductibles, copayments, and coinsurances have made consumers far less insulated from the true cost of health care. As a result, some consumers are growing more critical about the cost of certain services, which could affect their decisions. As consumer expectations change, what are hospitals, health systems, and clinicians doing to keep up?

Alternative sites of care could improve access, equity

Convenience and cost can influence where and when consumers choose to seek care (e.g., retail clinics, urgent care centers, and community centers, virtual health). Alternative sites of care (e.g., retail clinics, urgent care centers, and community centers, virtual health) could help ensure that health care services are available to patients when and where they need it, which could be in non-traditional locations and outside of typical office hours. Our survey findings show that retail clinics, virtual health, and community health centers could bridge care-delivery gaps for populations that have been historically underserved (see Advancing health through alternative sites of care).

Between 2019 and 2020, retail clinics nationally grew by more than 21%.1 Continued growth in convenience care could put more pressure on health systems to pay closer attention to the consumer experience. While just 10% of of our survey respondents said they have used a retail clinic over the past year, many more indicated they would be “likely to” or “maybe would” use retail clinics for preventive care (55%) or mental health care (47%).

But health care organizations should be aware of potential blind spots when it comes to cultural sensitivities. For example, care provided at a retail clinic in a systemically marginalized neighborhood might be viewed as offering lower-quality care compared to a more traditional clinical setting. Staffing these sites with people who look like members of the community and speak the same languages could help dispel feelings of less-than-equitable care. According to our focus groups in 2021, two out of three participants who identify as Black, as well as 50% of Asian and Hispanic participants, said they would prefer to see a health care provider who is similar to them, either in race/ethnic background or lived experience. Alternative care sites—if staffed with diverse and empathic care teams—could provide an opportunity for a health care organization to connect with their consumers and rebuild trust.

Virtual health could reduce care gaps

Nearly two-thirds of surveyed consumers—across all races/ethnicities—said they would use virtual visits for preventive care (see Leveraging alternative care sites). Moreover, nearly three in four Medicaid beneficiaries said they would use virtual health (apps or virtual visits) for mental health services. A virtual health option can help expand access to clinicians, reduce the stress of traveling to a medical office, and could help improve the home-life balance for patients and the parents of sick kids. However, about half of the people who participated in a focus-group said they would prefer a virtual visit with a provider who looks like them and is culturally competent over a convenient, in-person visit with a clinician of a different race or ethnicity (see Trust in the health care system).

However, some consumers haven’t been completely satisfied with their virtual interactions with physicians and other clinicians. Training these clinicians to build virtual interpersonal relationships can be a major step toward improving the virtual-visit experience for consumers. As physicians improve their virtual interactions, organizations should support them in the sustained use of virtual health (see Tapping virtual health’s potential).

The hospital-at-home concept takes virtual health a step further. The idea of providing hospital-level care in a patient’s home is not new, but it gained some traction during the pandemic. Rather than being admitted to a hospital, some patients are admitted to their home where they receive the same level of quality, acute care through virtual check-ins with medical staff, remote monitoring of vital signs, video interactions, and onsite visits from nurses or other clinicians. Patients who participated in Brigham Health’s Home Hospital program, for example, experienced fewer clinical interventions, had more physical activity, and had patient-satisfaction scores on par with patients who received care in the hospital, according to Brigham. The program, which serves about 300 patients a year, has also helped reduce costs and hospital readmissions. In addition, the home-hospital patients reported having less anxiety and more control. They also had an easier time visiting with family and friends and getting physical activity. Patients in the hospital recorded an average of 160 steps during their stay, compared with 1,800 steps for patients at home, and spent 18% of the day laying down, compared to 55% in the control group.2

Consumer expectations are changing, and many of them want their health care experiences to be in-line with other types of experiences. Making equitable care available through alternative sites of care could give consumers new options and help health care organizations build loyalty and trust with the communities they serve.

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1 US retail clinics market, FORTUNE Business Insights, July 2022

2 Brigham and Women’s Hospital Home Hospital Program, American Hospital Association, December 2020

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