Jul 26, 2012

Moment of truth for healthcare: Why the customer experience matters, according to new PwC Health Research Institute Report

A good or bad customer experience can make or break a bank or hotel. Now it's a crucial "moment of truth" for healthcare organizations that have to work harder for consumer engagement and loyalty. This, according to a report released today by the Health Research Institute (HRI) of PwC US. Management of the customer experience in healthcare is an emerging business requirement as health reform and state exchanges open up a retail market for more than 23 million individual shoppers by 2018.

What makes a positive customer experience in healthcare? According to HRI, consumer perceptions are built across multiple channels — in person, online, on the phone and increasingly through non-traditional settings such as mobile devices and retail health clinics. Moreover, the ideal experience increasingly is being defined by non-clinical elements, such as convenience, customer service and staff attitude.

When it comes to interacting with a hospital, doctor's office or other healthcare 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. One third of consumers said they would be willing to switch their health insurance or healthcare provider if another company offered a more "ideal experience."

"The voice of the customer may be the best kept secret in healthcare, but that's changing as consumers exert greater control over how their healthcare dollars are spent and exercise power to vote with their feet and wallets," said 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."

Customer experience in healthcare: The moment of truth is the first in a series of HRI reports on healthcare consumerism and related business implications for organizations in the post-reform health market. The report draws on findings from PwC's Customer Experience Radar, a unique nationwide survey of roughly 6,000 consumers across nearly a dozen industries. HRI compared the experiences and attitudes of consumers in the banking, hotel, airline and retail sectors to those of consumers in the healthcare industry.

While consumer expectations in healthcare track those of consumers in other industries, healthcare payers and providers — generally speaking — are significantly behind other industries in responding to the wants, needs and preferences of those same consumers. Several service industries outside of healthcare are shaping healthcare consumer experiences and expectations. Advancements such as mobile boarding passes in the airline industry, the self-service and 24-hour availability in retail banking, and the price and product transparency in the retail industry are still nascent concepts in healthcare.

HRI found that consumer expectations in healthcare track closely with other industries in many respects. Yet healthcare consumers differ in several important areas, including being less likely to report positive experiences when they occur. Key findings of HRI's analysis include:

One of the greatest benefits of a positive customer experience is the potential for many other people to be told about it. Yet healthcare consumers are least likely to share a positive story. Only 44 percent of health insurance customers and 54 percent of provider consumers actually tell anyone within a month of having a positive experience compared to 70 percent of retail and 66 percent of banking customers.
Consumers also are less forgiving of providers with whom they have had a negative experience. Six out of ten negative experiences are more likely to be remembered for longer in the provider industry compared to other industries. However, 88 percent of consumers surveyed said they would be willing to return to a retailer that apologized after a bad experience, while two-thirds of disappointed health insurance consumers were willing to forgive and forget if their frustrations were acknowledged.

Staff attitude was cited as the main contributor to positive moments of truth by 70 percent of consumers in the provider sector, compared to 38 percent of retail shoppers and 33 percent of bank, hospital and airline customers.

Price and convenience ranked high on a list of attributes consumers expect across multiple industries, with price being the #1 driver of purchasing decisions for consumers in every industry but healthcare provider. Personal experience is the top reason for choosing a doctor or hospital, and it's more than two and a half times more important than to consumers in other industries.

When asked about the conveniences and services they value from healthcare providers, 69 percent said they want facilities that offer multiple services in one location; 65 percent appreciate the ability to exchange information through online and mobile channels of communication and 57 percent place a high value on patient education they receive during a visit. Not far behind, 53 percent of consumers place a high degree of value on the cafeteria and access to WiFi and other entertainment.

When asked about what they value from health insurers, choice of physicians and quick claims payment topped consumers' list. Eighty-seven percent value coverage of over 90 percent of providers; 60 percent seek claims processing within two weeks of service; 49 percent want information provided to them in both paper and online formats, and 43 percent value website content that provides information about providers and plan information.

One of the key takeaways HRI outlines in the report is for health organizations to 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 healthcare 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," added Paul D'Alessandro, Health Industries Advisory principal and U.S. customer impact leader, PwC.

Customer experience metrics have been gaining traction in healthcare and are expected to become more important as incentive payments to health organizations become linked to patient satisfaction scores. Starting in October of 2012, Medicare will reduce base payments for each hospital discharge by one percent, or about $850 million for fiscal year 2013 as part of its Hospital Value-Based Purchasing program, which uses consumer assessment scores, known as HCAHPS, as a key component to calculate value-based incentive payments. Patient satisfaction scores will determine 30 percent of the incentive payments, while improved clinical outcomes will determine the remaining 70 percent.

A full copy of the HRI report is available for download at: www.pwc.com/us/HealthcareCustomerExperience
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