Do You Know What Healthcare Consumers Want From Their Access Experiences?

With COVID-19 accelerating digital transformation, consumer expectations for easier access online are rising. Do you have the consumer insights needed to differentiate your care?

Do You Know What Healthcare Consumers Want From Their Access Experiences?
Do You Know What Healthcare Consumers Want From Their Access Experiences?

To provide healthcare organizations visibility into the patient journey and where opportunities exist to improve access, Kyruus surveyed 1,000 people about their recent experiences looking for a new provider.

Read the fourth annual Patient Access Journey Report to learn:

  • How consumers search for provider information and where they gather it
  • What criteria they use to select a provider–and what digital conveniences they’re willing to switch providers for
  • Consumer booking preferences and how they vary across generations

Content Summary

Introduction: Re-imagining the patient journey to accessing care
Details about this study
Key findings
Discovery: The Internet continues to reign supreme for provider searches
Selection: Virtual care and online scheduling emerge as important new factors in provider selection
Scheduling: Consumer demand for easier, more convenient access keeps growing
Conclusion: Paving the path forward for a modern, adaptable patient access journey

Introduction: Re-imagining the patient journey to accessing care

The COVID-19 pandemic has fast-forwarded digital healthcare transformation across the country. Though many healthcare organizations made significant investments in their patient experience to respond to rising consumerism and competition in recent years, few had the system-wide, consumer-centric infrastructure in place needed to sustain success long term. However, with COVID-19 making it impossible to deliver care in traditional ways and magnifying the need for easier access online, healthcare organizations have had to adapt both their access models and care delivery methods – seemingly overnight. Many have accelerated existing consumerism initiatives and pivoted rapidly to launch new ones – and consumers have noticed, embracing new care methods and technologies, such as virtual care and virtual assistants.

In this new era, being easy to interact and transact with is no longer solely a differentiator, it’s the future of healthcare. The patient access journey has changed – perhaps permanently. To compete effectively for new patients and foster stronger relationships with existing ones, healthcare organizations need to evolve how they engage consumers across interaction points, while continuously identifying new ways to remove friction from the access process. That requires keeping a close pulse on consumers’ changing needs and preferences and staying ahead of rapidly shifting circumstances and industry dynamics.

To help organizations uncover new opportunities to attract, engage, and serve healthcare consumers, Kyruus surveyed 1,000 people across generations and geographies to understand how they search for, select, and access care. Now pulling from four year’s worth of survey data, this year’s report covers the evolution of the patient access journey, the impact of COVID-19 on consumer search behavior, and the role of new factors like virtual care in consumer decision making. The 2020 findings show the growing role of digital access channels, but also underscore the need for organizations to enhance their digital offerings as part of larger access initiatives that ultimately make the organization easier to transact with across access channels.

Details about this study

This report is based on a survey of 1,000 consumers conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf of Kyruus in August 2020. All survey respondents searched for a provider for themselves in the last two years and two-thirds had done so within the prior six months (i.e., during the COVID-19 pandemic). Respondents represent a comparable mix of private insurance and Medicare or Medicaid respondents from four age groups (18-34, 35-49, 50-64, 65+).

Similar to 2017, 2018, 2019 editions, our findings look at three key generational segments:

  • Millennials (ages 24-39)
  • Gen Xers (ages 40-55)
  • Baby Boomers (ages 56-74)

Key findings

Discovery

The internet continues to reign supreme for consumers looking for care, but how they approach their searches is changing. While the internet remains the primary method for gathering provider information, virtual care is starting to play a noteworthy role in the search process. In fact, 1/5 of respondents initiated their Google searches using related terms. Consumers are also leaning on virtual assistants for help finding care; of those who used one on a health system website, nearly ¾ found them helpful for identifying a provider or service.

Selection

Consumers are still seeking routine care and are placing a growing emphasis on the ability to do so virtually. Consistent with prior years, consumers still prioritize key matching criteria like whether a provider accepts their insurance or is clinically appropriate, but new criteria, such as whether a provider offers virtual visits, have emerged this year. In fact, over 40% said that offering virtual care visits is very/extremely important when selecting a new provider, and half of millennials and Gen Xers would switch providers to access care this way.

Scheduling

There’s a considerable opportunity to be easier to transact with, not only online but also over the phone. While still the top scheduling method, consumers’ preference for calling into book continues to wane as the appetite for online scheduling grows significantly, particularly among younger generations. Close to 2/3 of millennials and over half of Gen Xers now prefer to book online. For the 48% of all consumers who still prefer to book by phone, that experience is not always simple: less than half were able to book on the first try.

Discovery: The Internet continues to reign supreme for provider searches

For the fourth year in a row, independent research continues to be the primary way consumers find new primary care providers (PCPs). This is how close to 1/3 of consumers found a new PCP, closely followed by their insurance provider. As with PCPs, the top three ways consumers find specialists have remained the same across all four years: a provider referral, self-research, and via insurance providers. However, compared to last year, the share of consumers finding a specialist through their own research dropped significantly (9%), while those stating they were still looking increased (8%) by 8 percentage points. Given that close to 30% of respondents looked for a new specialist in the prior six months, these shifts may reflect unique pandemic-related dynamics, such as patients turning to providers for guidance in the face of confusion about where to get care or delaying their care altogether.

Figure 1. How Consumers Find Primary Care Providers and Specialists
Figure 1. How Consumers Find Primary Care Providers and Specialists

While there have been some shifts in how consumers find providers, specialists in particular, what hasn’t changed is what resources consumers turn to when looking for a new provider of either type. Across generations, the internet remains the top source for gathering information about providers, followed by recommendations from a family member or friend and healthcare professionals. Even though these remained consumers’ top three sources overall across all four years, reliance on the internet has increased slightly. In particular, those who searched during the pandemic were even more likely to go online (60%). Additionally, even when receiving a referral from a healthcare professional, 92% reported always or sometimes conducting their own research to validate that recommendation.

Figure 2. Consumers' Top Five Sources for Gathering Provider Information
Figure 2. Consumers’ Top Five Sources for Gathering Provider Information

For both consumers who turned to the internet when looking for a provider during the pandemic and those who did so in the months prior, the majority used a search engine, such as Google or Bing. And, while that hasn’t changed from prior years, the pandemic has impacted how consumers conduct their searches. For example, this year, 1/5 searched for “virtual care” or “telehealth visit” in search engines and this was even higher among millennials (26%) and Gen Xers (30%). However, the primary way consumers say they conduct searches remains through location-based phrases like “doctor near me” or “doctor near town/city” (66%).

Despite the ongoing importance of Google in the patient journey, a growing number of online consumers are consulting health systems or hospital websites. Up from 38% in 2017, 45% of online consumers now use these sites to research providers and services and nearly 1/5 actually start their searches on them. A substantial share of consumers is also turning to insurance websites, with nearly 1/4 actually starting there, making them a key avenue for patient access.

Figure 3. Consumers’ Top Online Sources for Gathering Provider Information
Figure 3. Consumers’ Top Online Sources for Gathering Provider Information

As health systems look to continue to drive digital engagement and position themselves as go-to resources, two new opportunities to do so are by making it easy for consumers to learn about virtual care options and determine which providers treat COVID-19. When asked which resources they’d like to see on health system websites, consumers continue to rank patient reviews and which insurances a provider accepts at the top, especially baby boomers, but 1/3 of all consumers want insight into whether a provider offers virtual visits and this jumps to 40% or more for millennials and Gen Xers. Similarly, close to 1/3 of all consumers want to know which providers treat COVID-19.

Additionally, given their recent rise in adoption, this year’s survey included questions specific to virtual assistants and uncovered that 40% of millennials and Gen Xers would like to see them on health system websites. In addition, of the 52% of consumers who engaged with one on a health system website, 72% found it helpful in finding a provider or service; this rose to 77% for those who searched for care during the pandemic.

Figure 4. Resources Consumers Desire on a Hospital or Health System Website
Figure 4. Resources Consumers Desire on a Hospital or Health System Website

Implication for healthcare organizations

Meet consumers where they are with the information they need online. With the need for robust healthcare information higher than ever, organizations can make the most of their resources by prioritizing the digital channels consumers frequent most: search engines, health system websites, and insurance websites. By refining their priorities with their own analytics, organizations can focus on the highest impact areas.

Maximize visibility to virtual care offerings on and off the organization’s website. Demand for virtual care has skyrocketed and healthcare organizations need to be more proactive about promoting and simplifying access to these offerings. Ensuring that virtual care services are both highly visible on Google and easy to find when consumers search within a find-a-provider is essential.

Adjust your website experience to address consumers’ evolving access needs. To increase engagement and conversion on your website, ensure it has the resources consumers value most, spanning continued high-value components, like patient reviews, as well as newer functionality, like the ability to see which providers treat COVID-19 or obtain help from a virtual assistant.

Selection: Virtual care and online scheduling emerge as important new factors in provider selection

What consumers prioritize when selecting a new provider hasn’t changed considerably over the four years of our annual report – their responses continue to show the importance of both clinically-related factors and convenience-related factors. Whether a provider accepts their insurance and has the right clinical expertise continues to top the list, especially for baby boomers, but access-related criteria like appointment availability and location are not far behind.

Given the increasingly important role of digital technology in patient access, this year’s survey included new questions about how offerings like virtual care and online scheduling factor into care selection. The responses indicated that, while they are not going to compromise on the aforementioned top criteria, over 40% rank online scheduling as very or extremely important. This was especially high among millennials and Gen Xers at 60%. They gave similar responses for virtual care, with over half of millennials and Gen Xers ranking it very/extremely important.

Figure 5. Most Important Criteria for Consumers When Selecting a Provider
Figure 5. Most Important Criteria for Consumers When Selecting a Provider

When asked whether they had ever had telehealth or virtual visit before, only 18% said they had prior to the COVID-19. However, more than 1/3 said they had a virtual visit during the pandemic and another 1/4 said they hadn’t but had an interest in doing so. This aligns with findings from our virtual care research earlier this year, which revealed a high level of satisfaction with and demand for virtual care – 3/4 of respondents to that survey said they wanted it to be a standard part of their care moving forward and many were even willing to switch providers for it. Correspondingly, in this survey, more than 50% of Gen Xers said they’d switch providers for access to virtual care.

Figure 6. Whether Consumers Would Switch Providers to Consult via Virtual Visit (Definitely/Very Likely)
Figure 6. Whether Consumers Would Switch Providers to Consult via Virtual Visit (Definitely/Very Likely)

Despite the overwhelming enthusiasm for virtual care, the survey results showed that consumers are also still open to accessing care in person. Given the pandemic, this year’s survey included a question about consumers’ interest in obtaining routine care (e.g., annual check-ups and screening) before the end of 2020. In response, 64% said they’d seek care in-person and 42% said they’d seek it in-person or virtually; less than 10% said they wanted to delay care.

To obtain further insight into how consumers would make decisions about that care, another new question addressed factors that would have the biggest impact on where they’d obtain care and from whom. While the ability to have virtual visits and clear information about COVID-19 safety protocols ranked among the top responses, more than half of consumers said the speed of access would have the greatest impact on their decision – the top answer. This reinforces the related finding that in keeping with prior years’ surveys, close to 2/3 of consumers had previously searched for another provider to find an appointment sooner and 44% had even switched and booked for the ability to do so.

Figure 7. Top Five Factors That Will Impact Where Consumers Will Seek Care in the Future
Figure 7. Top Five Factors That Will Impact Where Consumers Will Seek Care in the Future

Implication for healthcare organizations

Build robust provider profiles that address both clinical and non-clinical matching criteria. What consumers prioritize when selecting providers varies and there are notable generational differences. For this reason, organizations need to make sure that their digital assets address the other top criteria consumers care about, such as appointment availability and the ability to book online.

The showcase which providers offer virtual visits where consumers search. Attract new patients, especially younger ones who are willing to switch providers for the service, and retain existing patients by simplifying access to virtual visits. This requires ensuring virtual care options are highly visible on the organization’s website, within their find-a-provider, and on individual provider profiles, as well as in Google search results.

Surface appointment availability online. Consumers have consistently ranked appointment availability a top factor in provider selection. Whether it’s in-person or virtual, healthcare organizations can drive better conversion and loyalty by providing visibility into appointment availability and enabling consumers to factor it into their search processes – across channels – to hone in on the right matches for their needs.

Scheduling: Consumer demand for easier, more convenient access keeps growing

With most consumers still planning to seek needed care this year – virtually or in-person – healthcare organizations that meet consumer expectations for easy booking will be in the best position to win their favor. This year’s findings reveal that the desire to book online has increased across generations and especially among millennials, up 28 percentage points from 2019. Additionally, among those who looked for a new provider during the pandemic, 47% said that online booking was their preferred method, compared to 43% of all respondents.

Figure 8. Consumers’ Preferred Means of Booking an Appointment by Age Group
Figure 8. Consumers’ Preferred Means of Booking an Appointment by Age Group

Not only is there a growing desire to book online, but also consumers are more likely to switch providers for this capability; 57% of those who prefer online booking would switch for it. Those who looked for a provider during the pandemic were even more likely to switch providers – 61% said they’d switch to be able to book online. Similar to previous years, convenience and speed continue to be the top reasons for the preference at 65% and 60% respectively.

Even though younger consumers are more likely to cite online scheduling as their preference, across generations, the largest share of consumers still prefer to call to book (48%). These consumers see it as quicker, easier, and more personalized, but survey results again revealed gaps in the consumer experience around scheduling by phone. Among those who called in, less than half were able to book an appointment on the first call and only 1/3 felt confident about the provider they booked meeting their clinical needs.

Figure 9. Call Outcomes for Consumers Looking for an Appointment
Figure 9. Call Outcomes for Consumers Looking for an Appointment

In addition to investing in the phone-based scheduling experience, the survey also showed opportunities for healthcare organizations to differentiate themselves and drive operational efficiency by expanding the types of appointments consumers can book online. As they expand virtual care visits, this is a key example, as our virtual care research found that patients are eager to book virtual visits online – 55% of respondents said they would prefer to book online (over 40% for Gen Xers and millennials) versus 45% by phone.

Another way health systems can streamline access, particularly as the pandemic strains traditional appointment capacity, is by incorporating urgent care and retail clinic options into their access strategies and making them bookable online. Over 40% of respondents had visited urgent care within the last 12 months, 19% for COVID-19 testing. Similarly, 38% of consumers had visited a retail clinic within the last year, with 22% going for COVID-19 testing. While convenience and speed of access continue to be among the top drivers for visiting these care sites, in the case of retail clinics, obtaining a vaccine/shot is now the number one reason, up 34% from 2019. This trend signals an opportunity to lean on alternative sites of care as a way of not only offering greater convenience and timely access but also absorbing demand for lower acuity care.

Figure 10. Top Reasons Why Consumers Visit Urgent Care and Retail Clinics
Figure 10. Top Reasons Why Consumers Visit Urgent Care and Retail Clinics

Implication for healthcare organizations

Diversify the booking options available to consumers. The way consumers want to book appointments is changing but remains spread across different access channels. Healthcare organizations should seek opportunities to expand the number of ways consumers can book with them (e.g., online, through a mobile app, or virtual assistant) to meet their different consumers where they are, however they like to book.

Implement new ways to improve patient-provider matching in the call center. Barriers continue to exist for consumers looking to schedule the right appointment over the phone. Making sure call center agents have access to accurate information about providers and their availability, as well as easy-to-use scheduling tools, is essential for paving the way to more streamlined matching and booking.

Surface different types of appointments within the find-a-provider. Consumers don’t just want to book appointments in different ways, they also want different access options (e.g., virtual care visits, appointment at a retail clinic). By allowing them to book appointments at an urgent care clinic or for a virtual visit when appropriate, healthcare organizations can better meet the demand for timely, seamless access.

Conclusion: Paving the path forward for a modern, adaptable patient access journey

COVID-19 has already begun to reshape our world and how we interact with healthcare. Some of these changes may not have a lasting impact, but others most certainly will. Healthcare organizations that keep a pulse on these changes and react thoughtfully by listening to how consumers want to access care and building a patient experience around their evolving needs will be in the best position for long-term success.

This year’s findings, building on those from our prior three annual reports, show that healthcare organizations can lay the foundation for a more modern and satisfying patient access experience by not only increasing access to available information about providers and services but also by offering consumers varied options for scheduling and obtaining care. However, as they expand the avenues into their organizations, those that can also connect engagement points along the patient access journey will be the ones that not only best meet the short-term needs of consumers but also foster long-term loyalty in the process.

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