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Answers from AHCA: What do consumers want out of long-term care?

Long-term care in America has an image problem.

No one disputes the importance of the field. Everyone wants their older or disabled loved ones to be cared for with dignity and respect. But not every American trusts LTC providers to live up to the task. According to NRC Health’s research, 24% of consumers reported trust in LTC facilities in 2015. In 2020, that number declined to just 18%.

How did we get here? And what can we do to fix it?

That’s what two NRC Health leaders, Ryan Donohue and Jalene Carpenter, set out to discuss in a recent presentation at AHCA.

Fortunately, they concluded that it’s not all bad news for LTC leaders. There’s still a tremendous opportunity for organizations to attract customers, retain their loyalty, and deliver an experience that delights them and their families—so long as LTC organizations learn to adapt.

Here’s where Donohue and Carpenter urge leaders to start.

Consumerism rejects the status quo

Ryan Donohue, Corporate Director of Program Development, explored consumerism’s implications for long-term care. He began by pointing out the enormous gulf between consumers’ perceptions and the reality of operations within a long-term-care community.

“We all know how hard you all work, how much you do for residents,” Donohue says. “But we should not assume that consumers have the same impression. The sorry truth is, much of that hard work is lost on them.”

There’s no mystery as to why. The simplest explanation is consumers’ lack of familiarity with long-term care. According to NRC Health research, in the last five years, only 24% of consumers have stayed in a LTC community themselves, or had a family member who had.

Compare that figure to the 84% of consumers who visit a doctor’s office every year, and it’s small wonder that consumers’ impressions of LTC are so outdated.

While their first-hand experience with LTC may be scarce, consumers still hold the industry up to incredibly high standards. NRC Health’s surveys have found that 73.8% of consumers believe it’s very important for healthcare businesses to live up to their expectations—including for long-term care.

The problem of consumer trust arises, therefore, when these sky-high expectations encounter consumers’ misinformed impressions of the long-term-care industry.

“Most consumers just don’t have a strong grasp of what long-term care actually is,” Donohue says. “But thanks to the increasing influence of consumerism, these customers know exactly what they want from long-term-care experiences. We need to put ourselves in a position to deliver that.”

LTC communities, in short, must learn to adapt to consumerism’s influence on their customer base. On that front, Jalene Carpenter has much to say.

A former administrator herself—and now AVP of Consumer Strategy at NRC Health— she saw first-hand how to make sure an LTC community leaves the right impression with potential customers.

Her presentation emphasized several steps that long-term-care organizations can take to secure their success in the marketplace. A few of them are explored below.

Convenience is key

“The first thing for leaders to bear in mind is maybe the most important principle of consumerism: convenience,” Carpenter says.

For the first time in modern history, today’s consumers shoulder the majority of their healthcare expenses. That’s especially true in long-term care, where price increases are rapidly outstripping the cost of healthcare overall.

This financial shift has radically changed how consumers make healthcare decisions.

Aside from insurance coverage, convenience now ranks as the number-one driving factor behind a consumer’s choice of provider.

“And how can organizations create convenience?” Carpenter says. “The most cost-effective way is by having a robust digital front door.”

The case for a digital strategy

Consumer cravings for convenience have spurred an increasing reliance on the internet to guide their choices: 92% of consumers now begin their healthcare searches online, with 72% of this activity taking place on a mobile device.

This means that it’s urgent for every long-term-care community to make a strong impression online.

Carpenter cites some surprising statistics that underscore the point. While the most common drivers of LTC facility selection remain doctors’ referrals and recommendations from friends and family members, both of these referral sources are declining—and they have been for years.

Even more revealing is which referral sources are growing—online consumer reviews, and facility websites.

“One thing I say to administrators is, consumer reviews have even started to trump the facility tour as a driver of customer decision-making,” Carpenter says. “You can have them in your hallways, explaining everything to them, and they’re still going to go right home and see what the internet has to say about you.”

This trend toward digital assessment is not likely to change—which is why Carpenter argues for a strong digital brand strategy.

That means one that includes proactively cultivating online reviews, designing a web presence that curries favor among search engines, and generating a consistent stream of content for social media.

“Try it,” Carpenter says. “Google the name of your town, plus ‘nursing home’—that’s what your customers are doing. If you’re not number one in those results, you’re losing a lot of customers.”

The benefits of a strong online presence

Carpenter will be the first to point out that transforming an organization’s brand is far from easy. It takes diligence, persistence, and a judicious use of resources.

Fortunately, solutions like NRC Health’s Transparency can help with much of the heavy lifting. And for communities that employ it, the results are unambiguous. The solution yields a statistically significant impact across a variety of important metrics.

In her presentation, Carpenter highlighted one community that—along with a comprehensive overhaul of their approach to Search Engine Optimization—used Transparency to achieve remarkable new benchmarks of success:

The results on offer denote a stronger online reputation, an increase in visibility on major search engines, a marked uptick in census figures, and—most remarkable of all—even an improvement in customer-satisfaction scores.

Much more to learn

Improvements like these are well within reach of LTC organizations that are ready to embrace the consumerist revolution in the industry, and the advice explored above is an important step in that process. But there’s much more to cover.

Fortunately, Carpenter and Donohue covered all this and more in their AHCA presentation—which is made available to you, here.

In addition to a more in-depth discussion of digital strategy, you’ll learn

  • Why personalization of LTC services matters, and how to achieve it
  • The outcomes that LTC customers are most concerned with
  • What to do with the feedback data you accrue
  • And more!

Just click here to view the presentation in its entirety. And sign up here for NRC Health’s mailing list, so you don’t miss live events like this one in the future.