A 3D illustration of the words Find a doctor written on a blue key from the keyboard
Healthcare consumerism appears firmly entrenched in certain corners of the U.S. healthcare system, evidenced by rising consumer expectations and increased adoption of telehealth, self-pay platforms, and retail pharmacy discounts.
Now it appears that some less obvious healthcare sectors are not immune from consumerism trends. Increasingly, Americans expect consumer-grade digital experiences from life science and pharmaceutical companies, according to new research from Press Ganey, a healthcare experience analytics company.
In a survey of more than 1,000 American healthcare consumers, Press Ganey found that nearly half (47%) those surveyed research medications or medical devices on the manufacturers’ websites, making the companies themselves the top source after primary care providers. Less than 20% of consumers looked to their insurance company for this information.
The survey also showed that nearly 90% of Americans want drug and device manufacturers to include provider directories on their websites with information about doctors who have the experience and qualifications to treat their condition. This desire transcended generations, with 92% of Millennials and Gen Zers as well as 83% of Baby Boomers expressing this preference.
Overall, 83% of those surveyed said they’d be more likely to use or recommend companies who include such online provider directories.
Though health insurers have long offered provider directories, Andrei Zimiles, senior vice president of consumer and marketing solutions at Press Ganey, says he isn’t surprised that consumers are now also looking to drug and device makers for this information.
“Life sciences brands spend millions of dollars educating patients about their therapies and directing them to materials that inevitably have the call-to-action ‘talk to your doctor’ or ‘ask your doctor,’” Zimiles said. “It’s only natural that consumers, trained to expect instant gratification and convenience, would expect brands to not just make the suggestion, but to then help them get connected with a qualified care provider.”
Nearly half (44%) of consumers said that finding the right doctor is a barrier to their treatment.
Ideally, Zimiles says, provider directories would allow consumers to search for providers based on a range of factors, such as location, gender, languages spoken, appointment availability, and insurance accepted. Some directories may also include a quality rating, such as from third-party review sites.
But maintaining provider directories is easier said than done. Physician data is dynamic and requires continual updates. Doctors move offices, switch insurance affiliations, shift their hours or availability, and retire.
These challenges have kept life sciences companies from offering directories at all, according to Zimiles, or made it difficult to offer anything beyond bare bones or incomplete listings.
“There’s nothing more frustrating for a consumer than wasting their time with a resource full of outdated information, disconnected phone numbers, or broken links,” Zimiles said.
Consumers have options, from their insurance company directory to the hospital or health system website, to Google and online ranking services. But this many options may create confusion, according to Zimiles.
“One of the greatest challenges facing the healthcare industry today is the lack of a trusted universal source of truth and ‘platform of record’ for consumer-facing provider data,” he said. “What’s most important is meeting the consumer where they are—and that that information has to be up-to-date and the user experience has to be seamless.”
According to the survey, a good directory may also need to connect consumers to other services, such as online reviews and appointment scheduling.
Virtually all consumers surveyed (96%) said they consider online ratings somewhat or extremely important when they’re choosing a doctor. Nearly 90% said they would find it helpful to be able to compare doctor ratings on life science company websites.
A majority of respondents (71%) also said that telemedicine would help them keep appointments and manage their medications and 65% said they would likely use telemedicine visits to manage their prescriptions.
These expectations point to the need for companies to integrate their provider directories with telehealth and appointment scheduling features. Zimiles says life science companies are taking note of consumers’ desire for deeper engagement and are focusing on delivering digital patient experiences.
“Forward-thinking brands are recognizing that there is an incredible opportunity to help people—particularly those with more complex conditions—dramatically accelerate their path to getting potentially life-changing treatment,” Zimiles said. “There has never been a more important time to strategically invest in more sophisticated digital tools that help consumers find and connect with the right care provider(s) as quickly as possible.”