A delayed result for a preventive screening. A three-month wait time for an appointment. A disagreement between provider and payer about whether a treatment is preauthorized.
Healthcare consumers struggle with frustrating interactions like these in disconnected and fragmented healthcare systems. The reality: Experience is more than a buzzword when it stops people from engaging or prevents the delivery of effective, timely care.
The stakes are high because the current model isn’t working for many—as poor outcomes, high costs and healthcare inequities demonstrate. We’ve seen disparate attempts across the sector to resolve what’s causing these issues, but these attempts, too, are disjointed. Poor experiences, typified by inefficiencies and lack of easily exchanged information, are pushing consumers further away from the healthcare they want—leading to potentially serious impacts on global health.
Connected care initiatives—those aimed at sharing the right information with the right people at the right time to allow for holistic, continuous and seamless care—are underway in many countries. These initiatives have the potential to bridge these disconnects. But, to date, they haven’t uniformly or reliably demonstrated the benefits and value consumers and healthcare providers are looking for.
To solve this problem, healthcare as a sector will need to focus its collective energy around a comprehensive view of what consumers want connected health to truly look like. Understanding this view starts with a better understanding of their needs and experiences. We’ve been following this in our study of more than 6,500 healthcare consumers and 1,000 healthcare providers across the U.S., U.K., Germany and Sweden. What we learned emphasizes that the disconnects for these groups are large and growing.
ZS’s first connected health study revealed that U.S. consumers and healthcare providers want the benefits that connected care offers, such as convenience and better diagnosis and treatment. To follow up, we broadened our research to understand better what these populations are experiencing in the U.K., Germany and Sweden. There were some universal similarities, despite the significant differences in how these healthcare markets are structured.
Our 2022 data reveals how ignoring these disconnects for consumers is actually driving up systemic health costs:
- Reluctance to get preventive care: Nearly half of U.S. respondents (45%) say they don’t put any effort into getting regular health screenings. That number is even higher for U.K. respondents (68%), German respondents (67%) and Swedish respondents (71%). See Figure 1.
- Reluctance to engage with the healthcare system at all: Nearly half of respondents in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Sweden say they “feel like the healthcare system doesn’t care about me” and one in four say they avoid seeking medical care because “it’s a hassle.” In fact, inconvenience is the biggest complaint with their healthcare system among our European respondents.
- Reluctance to share health data: Our latest research shows a decline from our 2021 study in willingness to share health data, with only six in 10 respondents saying they’d regularly share vital signs such as body temp, blood pressure, heart rate or oxygen levels in a connected healthcare system, and fewer than half of respondents saying they would share data from fitness trackers.
We also see providers’ frustrations. They overwhelmingly recognize the potential of a more-connected health model but face their own challenges. These include when to suggest using connected health, how to encourage patients to adopt connected devices or virtual services, and how to ensure financial viability for their patients and their practices.
Data overload is a particular barrier for providers. Seventy-one percent of U.S. providers in our study say that they are “overwhelmed by data currently or would be if I tried to use this for all of my patients.” This number jumps to 84% of U.K. providers, the highest levels of overload among the providers in the countries we surveyed.
At the same time, provider frustration and burnout with technology was well documented before the pandemic and has only gotten worse. Providers already overloaded by information will not find this condition improved by data from new sources such as wearables, patient-generated data and more.
Like providers, consumers don’t see connected care as a solution to their healthcare challenges, so they aren’t readily adopting it. Only 28% of U.S. consumers use connected care today.
Yet in other parts of their lives, consumers rely on connected technologies daily. That’s because consumer tech has already figured out that consumers will adopt technology that is easy to use and brings them value. Wearables like smartwatches and fitness trackers have opened the door to help them manage some aspects of their health digitally. These devices are hugely popular; the number of devices is forecast to reach more than one billion in 2022. It’s time for healthcare to learn the same lesson: To drive adoption, create a better experience and demonstrate value. In exchange, our results show, consumers in the U.S. and Europe will engage—for example, by sharing their health data (Figure 3).
While consumers navigate fragmented health tech that is still moving toward interoperability, they are clearly turning to consumer tech in search of better user experiences—creating many small ecosystems and risking an even more fragmented future. Consumer tech companies such as Amazon and Google continue to try to put their own spins on healthcare. While they have had their share of false starts and retrenchments, they will continue to try. Without a course correction, the fragmentation will continue, exacerbating the health disconnects and dissatisfaction we experience today and creating even more care gaps.
Connected healthcare can vastly improve healthcare experiences and treatment. But to create it, healthcare stakeholders must consciously decide what role they want to play in a connected ecosystem. These choices go beyond the short term to defining their organizational identity, reframing definitions of success and making strategic choices. Working with more of an ecosystem view can improve adoption, usage and experience for those involved—which allows companies to capture a bigger market and increase potential revenue. There are many possible paths, but here are some universal considerations:
- Reimagine your mission and redefine what success could look like. This requires expanding your thinking about outcomes—beyond clinical and business metrics—to building a truly connected ecosystem and improving healthcare more holistically. This lens will help highlight new strategic opportunities that contribute to a connected experience and drive more engagement.
- Organize for outcomes. Assess and redirect investments to support these goals and make sure your organization is operating in a way that will support a connected experience. For example, a national health plan recently decided to develop a journey map for its customers to map the steps they take in engaging with the enterprise. From there, they are adjusting internal teams and processes around the customer’s journey to better centralize what used to be disparate touchpoints.
Federated approaches to connected health (making small investments in many places) or siloed efforts, such as centers of excellence nurturing a portfolio of investments, can only return a narrow benefit. If your organization is unable to create a coherent experience, your efforts won’t achieve long-term traction and the money spent on these efforts will be wasted. There can be value creation (via cost avoidance) by simply shutting down some programs.
- Put the consumer really and truly first. From too much data to reducing the healthcare hassle, the healthcare experience has plenty of room for improvement. This is an opportunity to learn from other industries like consumer tech that have successfully designed solutions around user experience. And putting the consumer first means that your organization must take a back seat from time to time. For example, specialists don’t want to use four different provider portals to track the prior authorization and delivery status of critical medications for their patients. The true solution is a more seamless experience similar to daily consumer interactions. Not every healthcare app succeeds, as we saw with contact tracing and vaccine scheduling apps. But there’s room to learn from those that get it right.
- Learn from and seek successful collaborations. Stop trying to do it all yourself. Connected health is vastly bigger than any one player, no matter the size. Look for and engage in meaningful partnerships with other ecosystems and industries on a big, audacious goal. There is power in mutually agreeing on a problem to be solved, aligning incentives and building new connections with parties who might normally operate in different business lanes—or even competitors. These collaborations can open up the possibility to create new value as well. For example, the recently announced collaboration between HCA Healthcare and Johnson & Johnson to support early detection of lung cancer, nurse education and the impact of digital technology on cardiovascular care focuses on a clearly defined population, covers several therapeutic areas and weaves in digital touchpoints.
Much of this is a change from the way the sector has operated. Many stakeholders in the ecosystem are used to going it alone instead of being intentionally and deliberately connected to others across the ecosystem. Our data tells us that consumers want their healthcare experiences to be more accessible, convenient and personalized. By centering the experience as the basis for a strategic change, we can realize that vision.
About the connected health survey
This survey was conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of ZS from July-September 2022. It represents a balanced sample of adults and healthcare providers in four countries: Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. Respondents included 6,607 adults (individuals aged 18 and up) and 1,005 healthcare providers. Healthcare provider participants were all licensed medical doctors with specialties in family, general or internal medicine; cardiology; or oncology.