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How Providers Can Help Patients Reach Their Health Goals


A new Aetna study has surprising findings about how people are looking at their healthcare holistically and are seeking ways to improve well-being.



While the healthcare sector has been resistant to change, we’re seeing signs that industry shifts may finally be underway, according to a new study.

To understand how this shakeup may impact patients and providers alike, Aetna fielded its inaugural Health Ambitions Study. The study shows that people are looking at their healthcare holistically and are seeking ways to improve well-being, including physical and mental health. In fact, nearly two-thirds (60%) of people say that if given an extra hour in the day, they would spend it on mental and physical activities.

“While the healthcare sector has been resistant to change, we’re seeing signs that industry shifts may finally be underway,” says Harold Paz, executive vice president and chief medical officer at Aetna. “The survey explores consumers’ health goals and preferences, as well as the patient-doctor relationship in the evolving healthcare landscape.”

According to the study, consumers desire increased flexibility, communication, and coordination from their doctors to achieve their health ambitions. Respondents say it’s very important that their doctors talk in a way they can easily understand (77%), have office appointments when they need them (66%) and offer access to other healthcare professionals to coordinate care (59%). Now more than ever before, patients are demanding greater transparency and support from providers to help them make health decisions.

“In addition, our study highlights that the health environment is undergoing a significant realignment and care delivery transformation focused on care for the whole person,” Paz says. “New models such as value-based care, in which doctors are rewarded for improving patient outcomes, are creating opportunities to do just that. For example, 70% of physicians in value-based care models always or often recommend that their patients set health goals, compared to 54% of physicians not in value-based care models.

The healthcare industry is transitioning to a consumer-centric model, and traditional organizations are facing competition from industries that are accustomed to providing better, more convenient customer service, according to Paz.

“In the midst of this change, providers-and their executives-will need to focus more on integrated, high-quality and convenient care or risk losing their patients to an organization that does,” he says.

The findings give an insightful perspective into how healthcare organizations can better address the health needs of consumers, according to Paz.

“The results reveal that physicians play a critical role in supporting patients’ holistic health goals,” he says. “People are not only looking to doctors to help when they’re sick, but also to provide support for their health and lifestyle habits.”

To illustrate, 72% cite annual check-ups as the top reason to communicate with their health provider, yet more than three quarters of consumers say it’s equally important that their physician be familiar with their mental health history (86%) and their ability to deal with stress (84%). 

“The fact is that consumers want an interconnected, interdisciplinary healthcare system that allows them to easily communicate with their doctors and get access to the health services they need,” he says. For example, Aetna One Advocate program, provides a high-touch, personalized care and support service, backed by a dedicated, multidisciplinary team, that helps members achieve their health goals.

“Understanding patient preferences when it comes to their health and wellbeing is crucial to healthcare organizations delivering more personalized, consumer-centric care,” he says.

Other unique findings

Other interesting findings from the study include:

  • Men and women have different health experiences.

“Women are paying attention to their holistic health and seek resources that give them the support they need for better wellbeing,” according to Paz. For instance, 45% of women say they have a stress reduction health goal, compared to 28% of men. However, men feel more confident that doctors understand their lifestyle habits, as 80% of men say their doctor is familiar with their health goals, compared to 65% of women. We have a clear opportunity to improve the care experience for women and empower them to make the right health choices for themselves and their families. 

  2.  Caring for the Sandwich Generation.
Members of the Sandwich Generation-people who manage the health needs of both their children and their parents-have to juggle a lot of competing priorities, according to Paz. “Encouragingly, our study shows that doctors are meeting their needs quite well,” he says.

Nearly all consumers in this demographic say their doctors spend enough time answering questions (85%) offer access to other healthcare professionals (84%) and have office appointments when needed (77%).

Based on the study, Paz offers three top takeaways:

  • Physicians and consumers desire greater access to community resources.

“Both consumers and physicians say that community resources are an important part of their healthcare experiences,” Paz says.

Doctors are seeking greater access to health resources to better serve their patients. In fact, more than half of physicians (54%) say mental health counselors are very important, yet only 7% say they have excellent access to this vital resource. By the same token, consumers are looking for additional support from physicians to meet their health goals. Three-quarters of patients say helping them understand test results (78%) and taking the time to explain reasons for prescribing a drug or specialist referrals (74%) is very important.     

   2.  Providers in value-based care models are in a better position to meet the needs of their patients.

“Providers using value-based care models report having greater access to community resources and care coordinators, compared to those who are not in value-based care collaborations,” Paz says.

For example, 67% of providers in value-based models say they have good access to in-home liaisons, while only 46% of those in fee-based models say the same.

“Because of their access to community resources, physicians in value-based care models are also more likely to encourage their patients to set health goals,” he says.

For physicians who always or often recommend health goals, 61% have access to in-home liaisons, 59% have access to nutritionists and 48% have access to mental health counselors. In comparison, for physicians who rarely or never recommend health goals, only 48% have access to in-home liaisons, 43% have access to nutritionists, and 34% have access to mental health counselors.

“As we enter into this new phase of healthcare, it’s promising to see that value-based systems can deliver the health resources and care that patients need and deserve,” he says.

   3.  There’s a clear opportunity for healthcare stakeholders to transform healthcare delivery, but how do we get there?

“To achieve this transformation, care must become more personalized,” Paz says. “Consumers need tailored care plans that are organized around their personal health ambitions and provide a support system to help them reach their goals. In today’s rapidly evolving healthcare environment, a personalized, community-centered, multi-disciplinary approach is more important than ever for patient health. By providing greater transparency, leveraging digital technology and empowering patients to control their own health, we can create a new healthcare model that treats the whole person and transforms the very nature of care delivery.”

The Health Ambitions Study, conducted in December 2017, included two distinct surveys fielded by Market Measurement, a custom market research firm. The consumer survey comprised 1,000 responses from consumers 18 and older. The physician survey comprised 400 responses divided among 200 primary care doctors and 200 specialists, all of whom have at least two years of experience.

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