Consumer research, focus groups part of health systems’ improvement plan

Health care providers have paid little attention to the consumer-driven health care movement. As long as the bill was paid, they didn’t care who paid it. But as more patients make their care choices with a consumer-driven mindset, health systems have realized they need to step up their levels of services.

In their efforts to improve the patient experience, health systems are turning to patients and their opinions of the care they’ve received.

According to Modern Healthcare, the opinions of consumers are playing an increasing role in how health systems decide on improvements to patient care and experience. As an example, it cites efforts by Avera Health in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to query women—both former patients and in focus groups—to see what’s lacking, since women “drive the majority of health care decisions for their family.”

And while other systems are following suit, it’s a hard sell to boards and hospital administrators that increasing investment in consumer research is a rewarding action.

Modern Healthcare cites Stewart Gandolf, CEO of Healthcare Success, a healthcare marketing and advertising agency, pointing out that consumer research historically hasn’t been taken seriously by hospital leaders. But considering the incursions that the consumer economy has made into virtually every facet of the economy, including health care, consumer research“is often used to improve patient satisfaction and establish brand advertising,” according to Modern Healthcare,

That work may not be done internally, however, since some executives don’t “get it”—so the system must turn to outside firms. According to Rob Klein, founder and CEO of healthcare marketing research firm Klein & Partners, providers who invest in research through their own research arms are “few and far between.”

Klein told Modern Healthcare, “If there was ever a need for data-driven decisions, it’s now. CEOs are increasingly looking for return on investment so they want metrics, they want decisionmaking based on facts.”

Surveys, at 87 percent, are currently the most-used method of gathering public perceptions, while focus groups follow at 71 percent. Other methods used by consumer researchers include online panels, interviews and media analytics, at 36 percent, 32 percent and 32 percent, respectively.

And the predominant responsibility for hospital marketing departments is brand management, at 98 percent; in 2013, it was 94 percent.

At Henry Ford Health System, one of the ways staff work to gain insights into consumer attitudes is by nurse managers on each of the units speaking one-on-one with half of the patients on their floors daily, the report says. The nurses ask patients at least five questions about their experience, which they log on a tablet, and negatives such as cold food or confusion about care are expected to be addressed immediately.

Data are analyzed frequently to address frequent complaints, says the report, with a 50 percent improvement since 2012 in the percentage of people who have answered that they understand the discharge process—once the system identified a problem with the discharge process and put in place new protocols to address that.

Klein is quoted saying, “The retailization of health care is here. Years ago, consumers would compare you to another hospital or doctors. What’s changed is consumers are asking, ‘Why can’t you be like an Amazon?’”

Posted 9:00 AM

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