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The Big Story: New Jarrard Inc. survey shows the dual importance of the relational and the practical

Getting the right patients in the door at the right time and with the right care team member, then providing them with an experience that meets – or better, exceeds – expectations is fundamental to the growth and reputation of any provider organization. And to fulfilling the ultimate goal of providing thoughtful, personal care that brings healing, not stress, to patients.

Connection, Cost, Convenience. Not necessarily in that order.

By David Shifrin
5-minute read

With healthcare delivery options proliferating, providers need to understand what patients are looking for in a care journey. How do they want to access that care? What dissatisfiers might drive them to seek care elsewhere? How well do they understand and value digital tools?

The Jarrard team continued its 2024 National Consumer Survey series with the third installment, which explores what leads people to choose their providers. How do they prioritize factors such as location, appointment wait times, availability of digital tools and even the demographics of clinicians and staff? Do they care about online ratings and reviews? And how do people define “quality”?

The answers offer insight for Marcom leaders to better position their organizations, both within their local market and the wider healthcare landscape.

Bottom line for Marcom leaders

Together, the survey shows that patients prioritize a personal connection with their care team. A doctor who acts as a partner in health is their basis of “quality” and the fulcrum for all other efforts within a provider organization.

That trust underpins a set of operational and communications imperatives:

  • Know where you stand in your market and your community. Track your reputation and brand equity through regular assessments such as focus groups, interviews, surveys and competitive analysis
  • Carve out a credible brand position. It’s not just talking about compassionate care, which is already stock and trade for every healthcare marketing effort. It also includes defining how that compassionate care is unique to your organization. What are the nuances that differentiate yours from others in the market?
  • Connect the dots between internal operations and external promises. Marcom should push operations and clinical teams to deliver on the public promises of a good patient experience, and then tell the story of the great work being done by highlighting services and clinicians living up to that promise.
  • Put digital in perspective. With the population split on digital and analog tools, providers must continue supporting the latter while bringing the former up to the level the public expects today thanks to other areas of their life such as online shopping, flight scheduling or meal ordering. Then, Marcom should be consistent in highlighting both options.

Want more survey insights? Keep reading or check out the full survey report here.

1. Providers are talking past patients when it comes to “quality”

“I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

Provider organizations often highlight awards and rankings when marketing their services. And behind the scenes, quality – as defined by CMS and technical metrics – is a constant and important focus.

Each of those elements is valuable, yet patients have a different view when it comes to “quality.” Rather than readmission rates and outcomes, quality is simply a doctor who listens to their concerns, a staff who is caring and friendly, and leaving appointments with a clear vision of how to improve their health. Oh, and ease of getting an appointment in the first place.

Those were top-ranked options when survey respondents were asked to complete the sentences “I trust my healthcare provider more when…” and “I know I am receiving quality care when…”

Takeaway: Awards, ratings from sources like U.S. News and the brand/name of the organization were at the bottom of the list. This suggests that highlighting external accolades may be a useful tactic within a wider marketing strategy or with specific audiences like clinicians, but it should not take center stage. Instead, emphasize the caring, personal experience patients will have – and back it up with thoughtful operations and staffing. That’s a more direct line to building trust among patients and prospects alike.

2. Insurance, convenience and good reviews matter most when thinking about choosing a PCP

Whether looking for a PCP or a specialist, well over 80 percent of people say that finding a provider who accepts their insurance is very important or important. Beyond those table stakes, though, about 70 percent said that a convenient location is important for finding a provider, with just over half giving strong credence to good online ratings and reviews.

That said, among the 80 percent of survey respondents who have an established PCP, a third found their doctor through a recommendation from a trusted friend or family member. Comparatively, about a quarter found their PCP through a “doctor finder” list from their insurance plan.

Takeaway: Word of mouth from a trusted source is key to making a final decision, meaning every function and individual within a medical practice must work to provide an outstanding experience for patients – who can be their biggest advocates.

3. Relationships are also vital in sticking with that provider

“She is my partner in healthcare,” said one respondent, when asked what they like most about their current PCP and the experience of receiving care from her. “They listen to me,” said another. Those quotes encapsulate the sentiment of many, whose open answers highlight the importance of a collaborative, caring relationship between patient and care team.

Beyond deep engagement, elements of convenience – in location, staffing levels and appointment availability – were also often cited.

Takeaway: Most who have switched PCPs in the past two years said they did so because they or their doctor moved. Or they had a change in insurance status. So, there’s an energy barrier to making a switch. Yet even – or perhaps especially – when a change must take place, building a relationship matters. One respondent noted, “I didn’t like [my PCP]. I inherited her when the PCP I had been seeing for 30+ years retired.”

4. Virtual care is well-regarded, but not a panacea

Consumers who use virtual care are happy with it. Just under half of people have had a virtual care visit in the past two years. Among that group, more than 90 percent said they were very or somewhat satisfied with the experience.

That said, a significant portion of the population isn’t clear on their options. Three in 10 were not sure whether their health plan offers virtual care. About one quarter said they didn’t know if their PCP or specialist even offered the option.

Among those who chose not to use virtual care, 55 percent said it was because they prefer having face-to-face time with their doctor, reinforcing the personal, relational nature of medical care.

Takeaway: Provider organizations should consider drawing more attention to and increasing education about their telehealth offerings while continuing to offer (and provide) an outstanding in-person experience.

5. Healthcare consumers are in a transitional moment with digital tools

Over half of the people surveyed have used an app or website to schedule a medical appointment in the past year. At the same time, exactly half say that, if all options were available, they would prefer making a phone call to schedule or cancel routine appointments.

Takeaway: As with virtual care, providers need to balance digital and analog scheduling methods, maintaining or strengthening phone support while expanding use of online tools. Additionally, it is worth considering how to better educate and equip patients to become more comfortable with digital tools. Of course, none of this matters if those tools aren’t offered or if they lead to a dead end, such as an inability to get an appointment.

Get the full report for more data and deeper insights