Patient Struggles in Navigating Healthcare

November 23, 2019

A new survey reveals how patients are struggling to navigating the complex healthcare system and what concerns they have about it.

A new survey examined how patients experience the American healthcare system.

“Our system should serve patients before any other stakeholder, improve their health and proactively protect their well-being,” says Ripley Hollister, MD, board member and chair of the research committee of The Physicians Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to empower physicians to lead in the delivery of high-quality, cost-efficient health care.

However, The Physician Foundation 2019 Survey of America’s Patients, found the current environment is not meeting the needs of most Americans. From high costs, to confusion on health policy, to the crippling opioid crisis, patients are faced with more hurdles than ever.

“As drug prices and expenses of care continue to rise, Americans are increasingly worried about healthcare costs,” Hollister says.

Seventy-three percent of American patients surveyed are concerned about their ability to pay for medical treatment if they were to get sick or injured, and even worse, despite the well-known fact that over 90% of Americans have health insurance, half of Americans say they are only one illness away from financial trouble.

Amidst the ongoing presidential debates and the upcoming election, healthcare has become an important part of policy conversations. However, the survey revealed that 77% of Americans cannot agree on one definition for “single-payer healthcare” and 22% do not know what “single-payer healthcare” even means, which is a term used by candidates often as they discuss future healthcare plans.

Related: Most Older Americans Confident in Navigating Healthcare System

The survey also found that most Americans are impacted by the opioid crisis, with 35% of Americans knowing someone who has abused or is addicted to opioids and 21% know someone who has died of opioid use.

“And as we’re seeing currently in the news, pharmaceutical companies are being sued over and blamed for the opioid crisis, but our survey shows Americans are unsure who to blame for the opioid crisis,” Hollister says.

While 53% of Americans blame pharma companies, 39% blame physicians. Interestingly, the 2018 Survey of American Physicians found that 69% of physicians are prescribing fewer pain medications in light of the opioid crisis.

“The findings outlined above are among the most pressing issues patients are concerned about today,” he says.

The survey also revealed positive attitudes toward the healthcare system, with 92% of patients satisfied with the relationship they have with their primary care physicians. The survey also highlighted direct solutions that can be taken to address the healthcare system, for example, 77% of Americans believe hospitals, clinics and doctors should look beyond a patient’s medical needs to see if causes such as food, transportation, and housing concerns might interfere with health issues, indicating to policy makers and physicians that they should focus on addressing social determinants of health.

“Physicians understand that when patients are unable to adhere to the collaboration of an individualized path for medical care, lives are at stake and costs will raise,” Hollister says. “Understanding patients’ unique concerns can help healthcare executives advocate for patients’ needs to be met within the healthcare system. It is the responsibility of healthcare executives and other leaders in the health care industry to put patient needs first, and this can only be done if they understand what those needs are.”

The survey is conducted on a biennial basis and looks at patient attitudes toward the healthcare system, including the patient-physician relationship, social determinants of health, and costs of healthcare.

Tracey Walker is managing editor of Managed Healthcare Executive.