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Sentiment toward preference in healthcare should alert industry to empower human care

NRC Health nationally syndicated survey—the largest of its kind, polling 25,000 people monthly—shows a trend in consumers’ lack of preference in hospitals. NRC Health Market Insights data reveals that the lack of preference regarding healthcare started at the beginning of 2018 and has continued into 2021.

NRC Health Strategic Analyst John Palmer found an increase of 5% to 8% in “no preference” year over year, depending on the metric. The graph above shows the percentage of consumers nationally who did not have a preference in healthcare over the past four years. Other key findings include:

  • 75% of frequent healthcare users (among those using healthcare 3x a year) are frustrated
  • 48% of all healthcare consumers are frustrated

Highest Rated Metrics:

  • A hospital most conviently located (81% preferred)
  • A hospital Emergency Room (78% preferred)

“Once healthcare leaders realize that consumers have a choice in healthcare, they can change the way they’ve always done things,” Palmer says. “Consumers are confused and frustrated. Costs are going up, and people believe that healthcare is all the same. The number-one thing healthcare leaders can do to reverse this trend is to listen to consumers.”

Why Millennials Matter

This increase in lack of preference is not limited to one specific demographic or metric, although some are more influential than others. Millennial females (ages 18 to 34) have increased their lack of preference the most since 2018 according to the national database: among them, the statistic has grown by 9%.

Individual metrics are increasing within non-preference. These data points represent a pivotal opportunity to understand the trend in lack of preference and how to reverse it in relation to this key demographic.

“Healthcare systems should go after the consumers making choices,” Palmer says. “Millennials are starting families and saying, ‘All healthcare is the same; why does it matter where I go?’ They are the future of healthcare—make them understand the value of your healthcare system.”

Key Takeaway: Pay Attention to Millennials

While women have historically been the household decision-makers regarding healthcare, it’s possible, with increased confusion in the market, that a Millennial woman may not have a personal relationship with a physician like her mother had. Doctors who embrace new technology, like updated websites, new telehealth apps and whose practices have an updated look and feel will have a better chance at making lasting connections with this group. What Millennials want is a paperless system with affordable costs and doctors who listen to them and see them as individuals. Is there a way to streamline the process of seeing physicians? Is there an app you can utilize that provides value? How are you targeting this essential demographic?

Easy, Simple Changes to Improve Your NPS

There are likely many factors that play a role in consumers not selecting specific hospitals when asked whom they prefer. The increase in systems branding and advertising create less differentiation in the minds of consumers. In many markets, the system with the most preference historically has seen the most significant increase in no preference, because they have the most percentage available to lose.

The overall increase in the cost of healthcare is one of the reasons more consumers than ever are delaying healthcare and therefore don’t have an opinion of where they prefer to receive care. The trends vary by market, and specific markets should conduct deeper analysis to understand factors that may influence this trend.

“Do the small things,” Palmer says. “Make eye contact. Just apologize if you are late. It’s so important to understand your brand promises, to make sure your marketing matches your delivery. Human understanding–focused marketing always outscores the cutting-edge technical type of messaging. Appeal to that; the small things will make the biggest impact.”

Key takeaway: Eliminate confusion

Wayfinding makes things simpler for consumers and has a more significant impact than you think. Offer signage so patients know where to go, or offer free valet service or an Uber Health ride to improve accessibility. Hire friendly office staff, work on lowering your wait times, and ensure your doctors are reviewing medical histories. The perception of a gap is essential to acknowledge to change the future because articulating these expectations is meaningful to patients. For example, when a physician reviews your health record or prescription history during a visit, consumers know the provider cares about getting their story and treatment right. Consumers don’t want to be just another number in your system, they want to be known, heard and understood.

Additionally, your marketing messages must match your operational experiences. When your operations are based on human understanding—that is, on treating each patient as a person with a story—consumer perception will go up. “When we see that high NPS score, the expectation for a consumer is, ‘I’m going to have a good experience because you are saving my life,’” Palmer says. “If you can avoid the small things that decay trust and expectation, then you are equipped to meet that high expectation.”

Watch the full webinar hosted by John Palmer on Preference.

Learn More about NRC Health Market Insights

If your healthcare organization is ready to understand better what matters most to each person you serve, let us show you the value of consumer voices. The NRC Health Market Insights solution is the largest online healthcare-consumer perception survey in the United States, measuring the opinions, behaviors, and profiles of more than 300,000 consumers annually. NRC Health Market Insights offers the largest consumer database of its kind, giving you deep insights and the quality data you want, when you want it.