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A new report has troubling findings for payers, providers, and technology companies. Here are the key takeaways, and reactions from experts.
Few consumers trust health plans, health systems, and the pharmaceutical industry. That’s according to the 2016 Harris Poll Reputation Equity and Risk Across the Health Care Sector report based on a June 2016 poll of 1,018 U.S. adults. Here’s a look at five of the key findings.
1. Consumers believe companies value profits over patients.
Only 9% of U.S. consumers believe pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies put patients over profits, while only 16% believe health insurance companies do. Meanwhile, 36% of U.S. adults believe healthcare providers (such as doctors and nurses) put patients over profits, compared to hospitals (23%).
Wendy Salomon, vice president, Reputation Management and Public Affairs at Nielsen, believes that the poll’s results reflect widespread concerns among consumers that companies prioritize finances over patient care. “This is particularly the case for pharma and health insurance, but in reality the public doesn’t really see any traditional players strongly advocating for their needs-including the care community itself.”
Michael Colarusso, managing director, NFP, an insurance brokerage and consulting firm, didn’t find the results surprising, as both the pharma and health insurance industries continue to struggle with a lack of transparency around costs and services. For example, when drug manufacturers increase costs they usually don’t share reasons, which then leads to consumers assuming the increase is unwarranted. Compounding the issue, companies continue to publicize rising profits while consumers struggle to find ways to pay for these services as healthcare plans shift more of the burden to the end-user, he says.
2. Hospitals and providers have better reputations than pharma.
The poll also revealed that while most consumers are neutral toward healthcare industries, more consumers rate health insurance (24%) and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies (20%) with low reputations, compared to hospitals (6%), healthcare providers (doctors and nurses) (5%).
Gil Bashe, APR, managing partner, Global Health, Finn Partners, notes that health professionals and the institutions that house them have a personal connection to patients. In comparison, although they are the gatekeepers of care, payers and biopharma companies are faceless.
“Patients have little transparency into how health insurance plan formularies are created and even less exposure to how medicines are priced,” he says. “High mystery leads to low reputation; payers and pharma companies should take heed of ever-dropping reputation statistics.”
3. Technology companies have the best reputations.
In comparison, 58% of respondents rated the reputation of the technology industry as high, compared to healthcare providers (43%), hospitals (37%), pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies (20%), and health insurance companies (15%).
Bashe points out that tech wizards often produce products that consumers either choose to buy or are used in procedures as part of their medical care. “Consumers don’t see health-related technology products as depleting their bread money, rather they are something they want,” he says. “On the other end of the scale, health insurers facilitate coverage and consumers often experience them as obstacles to obtaining what they want.”
4. Consumers say providers know best how to solve industry problems.
When asked where solutions to the healthcare industry’s challenges will come from, more than half of U.S consumers (55%) say healthcare providers, such as doctors or nurses. Nearly half (47%) see patients and consumers solving healthcare challenges, while 38% cite the government.
Says Colarusso, “Consumers have a more personal relationship with doctors and nurses that is founded on trust. Meanwhile, a lack of connection exists between the consumer and insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Delivery systems are experiencing a transformation, partially due to regulation. Hopefully this transformation will bring them closer to the consumer. The further the consumer is from the provider or delivery system, the less trust there is for the product or service. Therefore, it’s in the best interest of the healthcare system to become closer to end-users.”
Salomon says consumers yearn to have their voices heard. “If a company wants to be seen as a problem-solver, it’s fundamental that patient input is part of their process. For companies focused on big data investments, they might find that more of a human touch with the patient community is required.”
5. Ethics is the most important attribute for organizations, say consumers.
Finally, in order to be a part of the solution in addressing U.S. healthcare needs, consumers believe it is most important for organizations to demonstrate ethics (62% say very important) and quality (57%). Other critical factors include efficiency (51%), a long-term view versus a short-term gain (49%), collaboration (47%), flexibility (47%), and transparency (47%).
These are all qualities that healthcare leaders tasked with taking a very broken system and making it work better must exhibit, Bashe says. However, even with all the right stuff, those attributes will not be enough. Each sector-payers, providers, pharma companies, and policymakers-has varied economic and process priorities that sometimes conflict. That creates a never-ending environment of dysfunction, even though all sectors intersect around the patient.
“These behavioral attributes must be harnessed to get sector-to-sector leaders talking and collaborating around new ways to achieve economic objectives while remembering when patient needs are the priority, and societal value is achieved, the possibility for profit is welcomed,” Bashe says.
Salomon concurs, stating that the public believes that healthcare problems will only be met when individual players in the system work together. “This would require new ways of operating for some companies, and could predict a heightened role for professional associations and industry organizations where companies tend to convene,” she concludes.
Karen Appold is a medical writer in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.