Consumers are confused about healthcare: Here’s how physicians can help

October 22, 2019

Physicians and other providers can improve the situation by ensuring effective patient relations

Few issues are more confusing to Americans than ever shifting healthcare laws. In recent years, they’ve seen the Affordable Care Act pass and have heard countless debates about its merits. This constant uncertainty surrounding healthcare in the United States leaves most patients at a loss on a topic vital to their well-being.

2018 report revealed that just over a quarter of Americans surveyed think the ACA was repealed last year, and 25 percent were under the false impression that the tax penalty for not having health coverage was still in place. The confusion makes sense. As long as government leaders in Washington, D.C., clash over the ACA, Americans will hear many conflicting accounts surrounding the healthcare landscape.

In short, the current state of customer experience in healthcare is abysmal.

This also extends specifically to insurance. Average Americans don’t know what’s happening with their insurance, which causes unnecessary anguish. Insurance companies could do more to ease consumers’ minds, though. Although they send out coverage statements, these are often quite difficult for the average patient to decipher. The interfaces on carrier websites are rarely user-friendly. And with all the players involved, paying a healthcare bill can become a confusing, time-consuming process.

Between getting up to speed with insurance benefits and wondering whether they’ll be able to afford medical care, healthcare represents a significant mental and financial burden for consumers. Physicians and other providers can improve the situation by ensuring effective consumer relations in healthcare.

An opportunity to transform healthcare
People don’t need more information about health insurance. They need clarity from a trusted source, and within the healthcare system, there’s no one they trust more than their doctors. Medical organizations and physicians can draw on that trust to provide useful information to patients. This helps distill key points about changing healthcare laws and explain how legislation could affect consumers.

As a provider, your organization can help patients make sense of new laws and consider the type of coverage they’ll need for their families. Most importantly, you’ll improve people’s health. When people don’t know where to find coverage information, how to share data with their doctors, and what services are included in their plans, their health suffers. Low health literacy costs the country up to $238 billion per year, but that number could be reduced significantly if people were better informed. Achieving that goal begins with solid healthcare marketing.

Where marketing plays a role
Because they specialize in communication, marketers are especially able to establish effective consumer relations in healthcare. They’re experts at translating complex topics into digestible bites of information that consumers can put into action. That’s really at the crux of this issue - not just providing people with information, but guiding them through it.

If you have access to a marketing team, it can create an information pathway that leads customers to a deeper understanding of their healthcare options, allowing them to make better, more proactive health decisions. Even if your practice doesn’t have marketing staff on hand, there are some pointers you can put in practice to provide a well-rounded patient experience. Here are three ways to improve customer service in healthcare.

1. Use plain language. Speak directly to members of your audience and empower them to become more engaged in their own well-being. Remember that marketers excel at speaking their audience’s language and can frame certain concepts from a patient perspective. If possible, give your marketing teammates more creative leeway for writing copy and developing visuals that capture patients’ attention.

Once people tune in, they’ll be better able to comprehend the complexities of healthcare law and how it’s changing. Knowing that their options could change over the next year might drive people to prioritize certain procedures that are covered now as well as budget for potential increases in premium costs.

2. Pinterest-ize healthcare. Pinterest revolutionized web design by forcing designers to adapt to changing consumer preferences. Healthcare providers can learn from this. First, marketers can apply the rules they use to market consumer products to the healthcare sphere. Information should be easily consumable and simple - the things today’s patients need. Audiences might not have the time to attend health webinars, for instance, but a series of social videos, bite-size blog posts, or even live Q&As could improve understanding of their rights and responsibilities.

3. Practice true transparency. Despite a new law that requires hospitals to post their prices online, it’s still difficult to find that information. In fact, it takes a minimum of three clicks to locate price lists on many hospital sites. That’s no way to convert potential customers or demystify healthcare. If anything, ensure that your website is welcoming and simple to navigate. If possible, bring in user experience experts who can critique your site and recommend ways to make it more intuitive. After, allow marketing professionals to revamp the site copy.

The importance of effective consumer relations in the healthcare industry cannot be overstated. What consumers need is someone who can help them make sense of healthcare, and providers are uniquely positioned to do exactly that. More information will only add to the noise.

Marc Helberg is the managing vice president at the Philadelphia office of Pariveda Solutions, a consulting firm driven to create innovative, growth-oriented, and people-first solutions. He has extensive expertise delivering strategic initiatives and brings more than 25 years of consulting and industry experience to helping Fortune 100 companies transform their operating models and achieve their business goals. Outside of the office, he enjoys scuba diving, photography, cooking, and playing music.

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