UnitedHealth Customers Speak With their Feet, and it’s Time for Everyone to Listen by Miriam Bookey

This week’s sobering news from the UnitedHealth Group serves as a wake-up call to
anyone in healthcare services. For better or worse, a consumer-driven
health economy has put individual consumers in the driver’s seat when
it comes to how, when and with whom they spend their healthcare
dollars. They will leave in the hundreds of thousands if they’re not
satisfied (315,000 from UnitedHealth, to be exact).

It’s clear that service providers are no longer working with passive
‘patients’ who ‘receive care.’ Instead, the patients are compelled to
be active consumers, responsible for investigating their personal
healthcare options, arranging their own care as well as that of
children and aging parents, understanding what is or isn’t covered by
health plans, utilizing HSAs, selecting responsive and responsible
service providers, and taking the initiative to follow up with doctors
and health plans after appointments.  It’s a big, complicated and
thankless job. And it’s a world in which patients can and will leave
their insurers and select care providers based on service, not on
health plan.

So how can doctors eclipse the insurer in customer satisfaction? A
recent survey conducted by the Chicago-based research firm Synovate
sheds some light on what patients want. Pollsters asked 1,000 American
consumers to identify factors (other than more time with the doctor)
that would help them select a physician and improve satisfaction with
their next doctor’s appointment.

The common thread in responses:  We want a customer relationship with
the doctor’s practice before and after an appointment – not just while
the doctor is “in.”

· Before an appointment we want a fast, convenient way to learn more about our doctor.

·  We want a “menu” of a doctor’s standard medical services, clinical
expertise, their care philosophy, and the types of insurance accepted.

· We want to seamlessly arrange an appointment over the Internet rather
than interrupt our day to make telephone calls and wait on hold.

· Once an appointment is scheduled, we want the ability to fill out
pre-appointment paperwork in the comfort of our home or office.

· Afterward, we want an easy way to discuss results and treatment and make follow-up appointments.

Bottom line:  We want convenience – not as the doctor’s office or the insurer defines it, but as we do.

What does all this mean for physicians and practice groups and current customer-focused initiatives?

For one, patients want to be treated a lot more like customers and a
lot less like patients outside the examination room.  The next
generation of Internet-enabled healthcare consumers will demand the
same level of convenience and transparency they expect from other
service businesses.

That means providers in the health industry will need to adopt the
kinds of technologies that will make everyday healthcare transactions
easier.  Doctors have done a great job implementing technology in the
examination room, but the progress has been too slow in the living room
where consumers with laptops and PDAs use the Internet to manage their
daily informational and business needs.

Consumers recognize the complexity of the American healthcare system
and appreciate the challenges of implementing systemic change.  But
also, they eagerly await the implementation of a technology-enabled
e-healthcare marketplace and the dawn of the day when it will be as
easy to use technology to do business with their doctor as it is to go
online and order a pizza. Being a great physician will always be the
defining factor.  In the future, however, healthcare customers will
attach greater loyalty to those physicians and groups who make it
easiest for them to transact medical business and more actively and
effectively participate in healthcare decisions. When customers can so
easily walk away from a health plan that doesn’t serve their needs, who
is to say they won’t just as easily walk away from the physician’s
practice that doesn’t provide the conveniences they crave?

Miriam Bookey

Miriam Bookey heads editorial and communications for Xoova,
(pronounced ZU-vah) an online medical services marketplace. Patients
use Xoova for free to find local doctors, to learn what to expect in
advance of a care encounter, and to schedule appointments. Doctors use
Xoova for free to manage their presence on the Internet, to share their
philosophy of care, and to offer patients the convenience of online
scheduling. For full survey results, email miriam@xoova.com.

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