Health plans: What matters most to the health care consumer?

Deloitte’s 2016 Consumer Priorities in Health Care Survey

Health care consumers are unlike typical consumers. Their experiences are varied and complex as they engage with multiple parties on emotional and personal topics—health care is not a simple, one-time transaction with a single seller. Health care consumers face a multitude of options for services and are forced to use a confusing payment system. And, as we all know, the stakes are much higher in health care than in typical consumer transactions. Given these complex and evolving dynamics, having an in-depth understanding of consumer attitudes and behaviors has never been more important for health care players.

How do health care consumers make tradeoffs when deciding what is most important to them in their health care experience?

To dig deeper into how consumers make health care decisions and how health plans and providers can tailor their offerings to meet this more focused demand, Deloitte set out to understand not just what consumers generally prefer from their health plans and providers, but how health care consumers make tradeoffs when deciding what is most important to them in their health care experience. The insights generated from this study, our 2016 Consumer Priorities in Health Care Survey, paint a more detailed picture of what matters most to health care consumers.

The importance of the provider relationship remains the top priority for consumers. Consumers trust their providers and want personalized experiences with them. Good “bedside manner,” after all these years, is still something the typical health care consumer demands. What was striking based on this study, however, was the magnitude of the demand for personalized provider experiences relative to other types of interactions (such as cost or convenience).

Another surprising finding from this research was related to digital interactions: In relative terms, digital engagement is much less important to consumers based on digital engagement tools and mechanisms offered today. Given the investment in digital resources and the experiences consumers are having with digital capabilities outside of health care, it might seem like digital tools are an essential part of individual health care management (scheduling, billing, disease management, etc.). We found that this isn’t necessarily the case today. Our respondents generally reported not using, or understanding, the health care digital tools and resources available to them, and ranked these types of interactions significantly less important than any other type of interaction.

What we studied and how we did it

As we have learned, there are many, many things that consumers say are important to them, and in many surveys, respondents will indicate that all things are important (in varying degrees of importance). Our research design forced consumers to prioritize the health care interactions that are most important. Here’s how we did it.

Focus group: We started by conducting a focus group composed of a random, representative section of consumers to learn more about the health care interactions that mattered most and why. We asked a range of questions about services or products they found appealing, which became the foundational basis for our quantitative survey. Our goal was to ensure that the interactions tested quantitatively would be a reflection of real consumer attitudes and worded directly in consumers’ language and phrasing. 

Quantitative survey: From there, we fielded the Consumer Priorities in Health Care Survey, an online study of 1,787 respondents, with oversampling for select consumer segments (seniors on Medicare and Hispanic consumers) that we analyzed more deeply. We used a Bracket™ method akin to those used in sports tournaments. It pitted against one another 64 random sets of statements about consumers’ interactions with the health care ecosystem. Here’s an example of how this worked:

“What is more important to having a positive customer experience with the health care system…
(a) The ability to find a doctor that is accepting new patients
(b) Assistance estimating the potential long-term financial costs associated with a diagnosis?”

The 64 interaction statements that we tested were comprehensive across the health care ecosystem. Using this method, the total value of all interactions rated by consumers was designed to add up to 100. Therefore—if respondents rated all interactions equally—each interaction would have an expected value of 1.6 (=100/64). Interaction scores ranged from 8.9 to 0.2, indicating a clear distribution of preferences.

Sorting and prioritizing: This led to a prioritization of interactions and ultimately a stratified list of the most important interactions for consumers across their health care experience. When forced to make actual choices and tradeoffs about what is most important between different dimensions of an experience, these consumer respondents provided us with meaningful insights.

magnifying glass people

What we found

Our survey has led us to a number of important conclusions about what genuinely matters to health care consumers and what it should mean for health plans. Based on data patterns seen in the 2016 Consumer Priorities in Health Care Survey responses, four clusters of interactions emerged, listed below in descending in order of importance to consumers: 

  1. Personalization expected via providers (doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers): Six interactions, scoring on average 2.9x above the expected average (of 1.6) (i.e., significantly above average) 
  2. Economically rational coverage and care choices: Eight interactions, scoring on average 1.9x above the expected average (i.e., above average) 
  3. Convenience driven access and use of care: Fifteen interactions, scoring on average 0.7x of the expected average (i.e., slightly below average) 
  4. Digitally connected to manage health care: Eighteen interactions, scoring on average 0.3x of the expected average (i.e., meaningfully below average)

Download the survey to read in detail the health care interactions that stood out in each of the four thematic clusters.

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