- The pandemic accelerated demand for more consumer-friendly healthcare services, including telehealth visits, online scheduling and mobile check-ins to reduce wait times, according to a new report from Kaufman Hall.
- Providers unable to keep those changes in place, or those whose services are limited in scope, capacity or functionality, will struggle competing against those with more options or new players with retail experience, including CVS Health and Walmart, the report argues.
- The proportion of consumers actively engaged in researching the price of their care is also on the rise. Millennials in particular feel more comfortable shopping among traditional providers, telehealth providers and retail clinics than previous generations, according to the report.
Providers suffered historic financial losses this year amid stay-at-home orders, rapidly adopting virtual care platforms that consumers largely took a liking to out of convenience.
As they work to lure back patients and recover lost volumes, providers will have to improve access, experience, pricing and infrastructure to meet patient demands and compete with other providers amid heaping backlogs.
Kaufman Hall’s report, based on six consumer surveys with 500 respondents each and taken every month from April to September, found beyond new virtual tools, patients are increasingly looking at price when choosing where to go for care.
The group's consumer shopping activation score, which measures the percentage of commercially insured patients who actively shopped for care on the basis of price and were incentivized to choose a lower cost option, nearly doubled over the past two years to more than 11%.
The findings come as CMS moves ahead with new price transparency rules, requiring hospitals to publicly share how much they charge for services beginning Jan. 1, 2020.
Patients are most often motivated to switch providers based on location though, another recent survey of 1,000 respondents from DocASAP, which sells a patient access and engagement platform, found.
Other key factors include whether a provider is available for both in-person and telehealth visits, and whether they have near-term availability.
Waiting too long to see a physician is the top barrier respondents said they face when seeking care. Other barriers include only being able to schedule appointments during business hours, and trouble in general finding the right doctor.
Patients overwhelmingly find information on providers through a system or health plan website, more so than through search engines, social media, or family recommendations, DocASAP’s survey found.
They use health plan websites to schedule appointments, check their coverage, find in-network providers and compare costs for a procedure or doctor’s visit.
Consumers are still largely turning to virtual visits, though less so compared to peak levels witnessed this spring. A permanent shift toward more virtual visits though poses a challenge for providers planning their future service mix while trying to recoup lost revenues.
Providers must plan for possibly lower payments on telehealth visits if CMS rolls back pandemic-related waivers to reimburse for those services, the Kaufman Hall report warned.
And if lower reimbursement rates do become a reality, they’ll have to really rethink their business models.
"Given the relatively thin margins of the hospital industry, the missing business has had an outsized impact on organization finances," the consultant firm's report said.
"The reality of lowered reimbursement rates will require the development of a leaner business model and changes to in-person service levels and capacity. On the expense side, if the shift toward telehealth is broad and lasting, hospitals may be able to rethink some facility and real estate expenses."