Patients want the same efficiency and convience in healthcare that they find in other consumer experiences, a new study finds. But providers seem less confident in being able to offer those experiences.
Consumers over 18 years of age who received care services over the past 12 months were surveyed by consulting firm, Experian Health, which released a white paper Tuesday with the results.
Patients are growing more confident and comfortable with digital and virtual tools for accessing healthcare services. In November, 37% expressed concerns about the tools compared to 29% in June.
More patients found convenient appointments and more easily scheduled elective procedures.
Providers, meanwhile, have lost faith that telehealth services are their future. Roughly 49% of providers reported they felt telehealth would become a permanent feature, down from 59% in November.
The paper compared responses of a survey in June of more than 500 patients and over 200 providers with a survey conducted last November.
In June, 86% of patients said they were more confident about returning to healthcare facilities to receive care compared to 81% of respondents in November. Forty percent of patients rescheduled medical procedures they initially cancelled due the pandemic compared to just 13% who reported doing so last year.
About one-third of patients reported wanting telehealth and remote services as a permanent option to communicate with their clinicians. Digital tools to schedule and pay for services will increase beyond the pandemic, according to the analysis.
"We're likely to see a more balanced mix of in-person and virtual care, with face-to-face services made more efficient through the increasing digitalization of patient access tools," the paper stated.
Providers surveyed said they have offered more of those services.
The survey showed a 7% increase from November to June of the number of providers (44%) who implemented online scheduling. More providers also reported launching or expanding patient portal services, up from 36% in November to 40% in June.
The survey also had a surprising finding on price transparency: 14% of patients reported in June that their total healthcare costs differed significantly from their estimates compared to 52% in November.
"The hope is that providers are getting better at offering estimates and patients have gained an improved understanding of the charges that make up their payment responsibilities," said Karyl Rowe, senior vice president of patient access, identity and care management for Experian. "The combination of accelerated digital adoption and regulatory requirements —and increased noncompliance penalties — have boosted the importance of price transparency for both patients and providers."
Fewer providers were concerned about collecting payments from consumers, with those who said they were "very or extremely concerned" decreasing from 50% in November to 41% in June.
Lower utilization, a relatively good record of debt payment throughout the pandemic, and federal subsidies for COVID-19 treatment likely played into debt collection being a smaller problem, Rowe said.
Patients continue to be disastified with their purchasing experience in healthcare compared to other consumer purchases, like retail.
"Before the pandemic, people didn't really like the process of scheduling, registration and waiting rooms, but most accepted it as 'normal'," Rowe said. "That's not the case anymore. The pandemic exposed patients – who, let's remember, are consumers getting healthcare – to telehealth, scheduling, and registration via portals and on phones. They don't want to go back."