Deloitte: Consumers using more healthcare technology

'Healthcare is becoming more digitized and consumer oriented'
By Bernie Monegain
10:58 AM
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Americans are increasing their use of technology to improve their health, navigate the health system and flex their shopping muscles, according to a new report from The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.

The report, "Health Care Consumer Engagement: No One-Size-Fits-All Approach," found that 22 percent of respondents used technology to access, store and transmit health records in the last year, up from 13 percent in 2013. Use was higher for those with major chronic conditions: 32 percent compared to 19 percent in 2013.

The study also shows that 16 percent of respondents who needed care went online for cost information, up from 11 percent in 2013. Millennials in this group increased the most, 27 versus 17 percent. Further, 71 percent of all those surveyed said they have not gone online for cost information but are "very" or "somewhat" likely to use a pricing tool in the future. 

To assess quality, 25 percent of all respondents used a scorecard to compare the performance of doctors, hospitals and/or health plans, up from 19 percent in 2013. The rate was highest in the youngest cohort, with 49 percent of millennials who received care in the last year using a scorecard compared to 31 percent in 2013.

"Healthcare is becoming more digitized and consumer-oriented," Greg Scott, principal at Deloitte Consulting and vice chairman and national sector leader for the health plans practice, said in a news release. "It's not an overnight change, but more like how summer turns into fall – gradual yet very perceptible."

The anticipation of a more customer-driven industry is causing many health companies to transform into retail-focused organizations, said Scott, impacting everything from strategy and scale to operations and human capital.

[See also: mHealth enters consumer Golden Age.]

"For the enterprise, this is about more than a cool app – this is about making the end-to-end changes needed to better identify and engage a more empowered purchaser," Scott added.

The report identifies six consumer types emerging in today's market and quantifies their size – a framework that can help companies pursue customer-segmentation strategies. The "casual and cautious" make up 34 percent of the surveyed market, followed by the "content and compliant" at 22 percent, the "online and onboard" at 19 percent, "sick and savvy" at 11 percent, "out and about" at 8 percent and "shop and save" at 6 percent. The report gives depth on each segment's approach to health care.

"Not all consumers are alike in how they engage the system, and a large segment still remains disengaged," said Harry Greenspun, MD, director of the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, in a statement. "Companies likely won't take a one-size-fits-all approach in their marketing and operations, but a tailored strategy that considers the unique characteristics of the segments they are most interested in."

Respondents most trust physician groups/medical practices/doctor's offices as a reliable source of information on treatments, with 49 percent giving this category a high rating. However, the scores for health insurance and life sciences companies have doubled since 2010. Specifically, 21 percent gave health plans a high rating, compared to 10 percent in 2010, while 18 percent gave life sciences companies a high rating, compared to 9 percent in 2010.

"It's not just the hospitals and doctors who are striving to get closer to the patient – it's the entire industry," added Sarah Thomas, director of research at the center. "The post-ACA rise of the individual market and the need for health organizations to demonstrate value are putting the patient at the center of the health ecosystem."

[See also: The patient-centricity era: 4 keys to improving consumer experience.]

Other key findings:

  • 28 percent of respondents have used technology to measure fitness and health goals, up from 17 percent in 2013.
  • 23 percent have used technology to monitor a health issue, versus 15 percent in 2013.
  • 40 percent of the surveyed technology users have shared their fitness or monitoring information with their doctor.
  • 63 percent of the surveyed technology users say their use of fitness or monitoring technologies has led to a significant behavior change.
  • 13 percent of respondents who take prescription drugs receive electronic alerts or reminders; more than half express interest in using technology to prompt them to take their medication.
  • Rates of conferring with doctors via email, texting or video have doubled in the last two years, suggesting digital communication between consumers and providers may continue trending upward.
  • 48 percent of respondents prefer to partner with doctors rather than have them make decisions for them, up from 40 percent in 2008, and 34 percent strongly believe doctors should encourage patients to raise questions. However, only 16 percent of respondents who received care report asking their doctor to consider treatment options other than the one initially recommended.