How are consumers’ expectations of healthcare changing in the digital age?

This is the question that The Consumerization of Healthcare, a new report produced by Econsultancy and Adobe, sets out to answer.

The report, based on a comprehensive survey of more than 2,600 American healthcare consumers, reveals the extent to which the internet and digital businesses have impacted consumers’ expectations of their healthcare providers.

Increasingly, consumers are coming to expect a level of customer experience on a par with that of other digital services: fast, convenient and online. No longer content to attend routine appointments in person or rely on a medical practitioner for a diagnosis, consumers are going online to research symptoms and treatment, and are prepared to switch providers if a different provider can offer faster appointments, online booking or video consultations.

Perhaps most noteworthy of all, the report illustrates the extent to which this level of expectation cuts across age demographics. While younger age groups are still most likely to interact with healthcare providers digitally – and are most accustomed to doing so – older consumers are increasingly using digital channels to take control of their healthcare as well. Eighty-five percent of consumers aged 18-34, and 84% of consumers aged 35-55 and 55+, say that they always research a diagnosis online.

When it comes to researching healthcare providers, the internet dominates as a source of information. 92% of consumers aged 18-34 say they go online to research new HCPs, along with 86% of consumers aged 35-55, and 73% of consumers aged 55 and over.

The Consumerization of Healthcare

Healthcare has been able to resist many of the upheavals in consumer behavior that have affected other industries thanks to a lack of disruptive competition and the stabilizing role played by healthcare professionals in the “sales” process. However, this is now changing rapidly.

Consumers expect digital services from their healthcare provider

Consumers increasingly believe that every part of their healthcare service, from appointment booking to exchanging information to the appointments themselves, should have an online option.

  • 62% of respondents say that they expect their providers to offer online appointment booking, while 44% say that this functionality is “very important” to them.
  • 84% of consumers say that they should be able to exchange secure messages with their healthcare provider.
  • Nearly 60% of respondents under 55 years of age said that it would be “life-changing” or “very useful” to be able to interact with their HCP via video chat instead of making a routine visit. 50% of respondents under 35 also said that they would opt for a longer video appointment over a shorter in-person appointment.

Consumers expect healthcare to live up to other industries

It is increasingly evident that consumers are coming to expect the same quality of experience and convenience that they enjoy in other areas of their lives. No longer is healthcare the exemption to the ‘rule’ of digital disruption that has affected almost every other industry.

Seventy-five percent of respondents to the survey by Econsultancy and Adobe said that they want the same experience in healthcare that they get from other businesses.

experience in healthcare

Currently, healthcare is not ranked highly in comparison to other industries when it comes to customer experience. When asked, “How do the following compare in terms of being fast to respond, offering choices for communications and other elements of your experience as a customer?”, healthcare ranked fifth out of seven consumer industries, behind retail, wireless and home technology, financial services and real estate, and ahead of only automotive and government.

However, this does present an opportunity for healthcare providers to exceed consumer expectations by improving their offering – and to steal a march on the competition. Close to 60% of respondents said they would “absolutely” or “very likely” switch providers if they offered an experience that included faster appointments, online booking, and video appointments. This figure rises to an overwhelming 94% among consumers aged 18 to 34.

As the report author writes, “The challenge for marketers, then, is threefold; first to address the issues and opportunities in improving the overall experience and second, to effectively communicate these changes to consumers.

“At the same time… marketers can’t overcorrect to digital. While the movement toward a more digitally-enabled life is everywhere, most interactions, purchases and conversations take place offline. That’s easy to overlook in the rush to assemble assets and build digital expertise and assets.”

Download the report

The Consumerization of Healthcare