When business analysts take a look at the health care industry in America, they often find both striking similarities and radical differences between what consumers say about retail and what patients say about health care. Studies on health care services underscore the fact that a doctor’s office is, in many senses, a business, even though people don’t tend to think of health care as a “consumer industry.” New studies are finding that when it comes to choosing doctors, consumers are using some of the same criteria that they would at the check-out register of a department store or other retailer.
A Friendly Experience
Some of the newest results on surveys of patients as customers come from PwC Health Research Institute, a group that surveyed several thousand patients to get a better picture of what today’s patient is looking for in a medical provider. Part of what PwC found is that a friendly greeting is twice as important at the door of the doctor’s office as it is in a bank or a big-box store. That’s big news for practices that haven’t invested the time and effort to make sure there’s someone personable sitting at the front desk. It’s also a good look at how medical offices can tune in to what patients really expect in today’s health care industry.
Price Not a Factor?
Studies also routinely find that price is not the big factor in patient provider selection that it is in retail. A lot of that has to do with the fact that, in many cases, the insurer is the one paying, not the patient. The triangular nature of most medical payments means patients aren’t likely to shop for health care the same way that they shop for consumer goods. Rather, as we have suggested many times, the health care consumer should put much more of a focus on other kinds of research that will ultimately affect price. This means checking to make sure the provider has a good contractual agreement with the patient’s insurer, that the provider uses in-network staff, and that items like facility fee charges don’t tend to go through the roof. Word of mouth is something that’s useful as well, and many studies show that the grapevine, both offline and online, plays a key role in how patients choose a provider.
What’s In It For You?
The idea that there are people out there gathering data about customer satisfaction in health care is a good sign. It means that there is an opportunity for you to get the word out to providers about what really gets you enthused, or on the other hand, turned off, by a practice. Look for ways to contribute to this major issue, whether in surveys or in other public forums, and you may help change the way your doctors deliver services in your community.