McKinsey debunks myths about healthcare consumerism

By Jeff Rowe
11:02 AM

There's little doubt everyone is being called upon to become more active in managing his or her own healthcare, but does that make us healthcare "consumers"?

McKinsey & Co., the global consulting firm, has been exploring that question in recent years through a series of surveys designed to help us better understand how citizens are taking to the myriad changes and opportunities underway as a result of healthcare reform.

"This year alone," the company says in a recently released report entitled "Debunking common myths about healthcare consumerism," they "surveyed more than 11,000 people across the country about how they perceive their healthcare needs and wants, how they select providers, and how they make other healthcare decisions."

Their results, they says, indicate that "many of the assumptions currently being made about healthcare consumerism are no more than myths."

In their view, there are eight "myths" healthcare stakeholders should dispense with as they try to determine what's going on in the minds of patients. First up, the idea that healthcare is viewed differently from other industries. "Our findings indicate that consumers want the same qualities in healthcare companies that they value in non-healthcare settings. In this year's Consumer Health Insights (CHI) survey, we asked participants to identify the non-healthcare companies with the strongest consumer focus. Apple and Amazon led the list. We then asked the participants to tell us what qualities gave such companies a strong customer focus, as well as what they valued in a consumer- focused healthcare company."

More than half the participants cited great customer service as important for non-healthcare and healthcare companies alike, while other desirable qualities participants identified for both sets of companies were delivering on expectations, making life easier and offering "great value."

Another myth the report noted involved the idea that most consumers have strong opinions about what matters to them when they make healthcare decisions or receive healthcare services. On the contrary, McKinsey says the evidence suggests "that there is often a disconnect between what consumers believe matters most and what influences their opinions most strongly."

The next myth may be the most important for policymakers and payers. It's the notion that most consumers research their healthcare choices before making important decisions and then make fact-based choices based on their research. The evidence, McKinsey says, suggests that "many, if not most, healthcare consumers are not yet making research- based decisions. Our findings indicate, for example, that only a few consumers are currently researching provider costs or even the number of providers they can choose among," which is a major goal for healthcare reformers hoping to use consumer "choice" to drive down the overall cost of care.

The other "myths" McKinsey identifies focus on the average consumer's relationship with his or her PCP, the future of retail clinics and the belief, apparently incorrect, that only young people are using technology to manage their health and healthcare needs.

There are, of course, a range of takeaways for stakeholders trying to "get in the head" of patients. The report says payors, for example, "should think about what value proposition they want to offer to consumers. That value proposition can be, but doesn't have to be, price related--consumers are open to other enticements."

As for providers, they shouldn't "take patient loyalty for granted or underestimate the role that experience-related factors such as convenience and empathy play in consumer satisfaction and loyalty."

Perhaps most important, the writers conclude, both payors and providers should realize that consumers' expectations are no different in healthcare than in any other industry. Indeed, they note, other industries will continue to shape these expectations, and healthcare companies need to catch up.

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