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2 in 3 Healthcare Consumers Report Bad Patient Experience

New Accenture data shows that a more empathetic patient-provider interaction that meets patient emotional needs could prevent a bad patient experience.

Only one in three patients can boast they’ve never had a bad patient experience with either a provider, hospital, or pharmacy, according to the latest data from Accenture, a troubling sign for a medical industry increasingly focused on patient satisfaction.

The report, which included survey responses from some 1,800 adult patients, outlined a key patient experience lapse in the push for consumerism in healthcare. Additionally, the report found low patient engagement with healthcare technology, with only about one in four patients saying they use health IT to manage their own health.

More promising, the report found that for many patients, healthcare access either went unchanged or even got better since the COVID-19 pandemic. This is important considering the concerns for widening care gaps and chronic disease management harbored across the industry.

But perhaps most startling were the findings about patient experience. When asked about the different factors that can be detrimental to a good healthcare encounter, only 33 percent of respondents could say they’d never had a bad experience.

"Our research shows that improving care experiences will require better collaboration between all relevant parties ― from pharma companies and healthcare providers to insurance and tech companies," Dr. Kaveh Safavi, a senior managing director in Accenture's Health practice, said in a public statement.

“We have to lead with people first and use digital technology to make healthcare experiences simpler, more coordinated, more empathetic and, ultimately, more effective.”

Twenty-two percent of respondents said an inefficient visit led to a poor healthcare experience, while 19 percent lamented unhelpful medical advice and 17 percent cited a surprise medical bill. A notable 11 percent of patients said staff members were rude and that they did not receive emotional support.

And these bad patient experiences carried consequences, the survey continued. Forty-four percent of patients said their bad medical experience made them feel stressed out or upset, while equal proportions (34 percent) said they became less likely to access care the next time they needed it or switched their medical providers.

Patients said providers should focus on empathy during the clinical experience to prevent the side effects of low patient satisfaction. Fifty-five percent of patients said they want a clinician who explains medical information clearly, while 52 percent said they want someone who understands and meets their emotional needs.

Care coordination and efficient visits likewise rank high as contributing to patient satisfaction.

The report also showed a net-neutral change in health IT utilization. While patients continued to flock to tools offered by their providers—telehealth, patient portals or EHRs, and remote patient monitoring—their interest in more consumer-facing tools like wearables or online information hubs leveled off.

Telehealth use continued to climb compared to pre-pandemic times, with the number surging from 7 percent before COVID-19 to 32 percent in 2021. More patients than ever are accessing their EHRs, growing from 16 percent doing so in 2020 to 31 percent in 2021.

But far fewer patients are using tools that are intended for patients and which patients usually have to seek out for themselves. The number of patients using mHealth apps on their smartphones dropped from 35 percent in 2020 to 18 percent in 2021. Meanwhile, access to online information hubs went down from 29 percent in 2020 to 12 percent in 2021.

The largely patient-facing nature of those tools could be quelling uptake. Patients said a recommendation from their provider compels them to utilize patient engagement technology, and tools like telehealth and the patient portal are more likely to get the clinician seal of approval. Patients also want to perceive a digital tool as private and secure, as well as useful in improving their own health.

The report’s high point is the consistent, or even improving, patient care access seen this year. Just about half (51 percent) of respondents said their care access was about the same as it had been since the pandemic’s start. Another 26 percent said their care access had actually improved. This comes as healthcare experts around the country have voiced concerns about adequate care access during the pandemic.

But there are still some snags, particularly as they related to cost-related care access barriers among younger generations. A fifth of patients still said they saw worse care access since the start of the pandemic, and many of them cite financial issues.

Fewer than half of patients (40 percent) were able to say they had never encountered a financial barrier to care. For Gen X and Millennial patients, that figure goes down to 30 and 27 percent, respectively.

And when patients can’t afford healthcare access, their health suffers. Thirty-nine percent said they delay treatment when it’s not affordable and 29 percent said they decline treatment. About a quarter said they ration their prescriptions when they hit affordability issues, while 43 percent said they turn to over-the-counter alternatives.

What’s more, different generations mitigate cost barriers differently. Younger patients were more likely to use rebates, discounts, and non-profit services. Older adults, on the other hand, were more likely to look into treatment alternatives.

Across either age group, few considered using digital technologies to mitigate cost, something the Accenture researchers suggested was a missed opportunity.

Finally, the report uncovered serious consumer skepticism of the pharmaceutical industry. With patients more aware than ever of their purchasing power and valuable healthcare information, they cast a suspicious eye toward pharmaceutical giants that patients say do not offer enough price transparency to be trustworthy.

Particularly, 37 percent of patients disagreed with all statements about pharmaceutical company trustworthiness. Those patients expressed disbelief that pharmaceutical companies are working in good faith to market effective drugs that prioritize patient health.

Most patients said having better price transparency, lowering costs in general, and offering more transparency into the drug development process would improve their trust in pharmaceutical companies.

“The pharmaceutical industry is top of mind right now for many people, so it has an opportunity to engage with patients to recreate the customer experience,” Brad Michel, a managing director in Accenture’s Life Sciences practice in North America, said in the statement. “Consider that 34% of the respondents said they would have more trust in pharma companies if they were more transparent about the drug development process ― and the same number said they would have more trust if pharma companies clearly communicated the effectiveness and side effects of medications. This tells us that people see solutions for a more positive relationship.”

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