COVID-19 thrust many healthcare users into the digital sphere. Older adults were no exception. In fact, their digital adoption has sped ahead. Our Health and Life Sciences experience research shows that in recent years, the expectations that those age 55 and over have for their care are changing. What we think might be most important to them is not. For instance, internet access is not a priority for 1 in 10, cost matters to less than 1 in 5 and less than 1 in 10 say recommendations from family and friends are important. [1]

Some payers and providers are already adapting to changing expectations. And if they continue to evolve services and care protocols to satisfy new needs, they can build loyalty among the “age-ins” who are nearing qualification for Medicare. Those who don’t respond risk losing this importance segment. While 2020 showed us that 25% of seniors are willing to switch providers due to a bad experience, the pandemic has pushed older adults to shift care providers at a higher rate—jumping to 35%. 

The race is on to capture the attention of the largest generation, knowing the age-related disease cohort’s priorities fills both the acute beds and the Medicare Advantage high-margin health plan membership. Healthcare organizations that treat older patients the same as other age groups will miss out.

Negative experiences drive negative business and clinical outcomes

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Graph showing how negative healthcare experiences affects patients

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Positive experiences rest on provider communication, team coordination, efficient timing and nice staff

Older adults (compared to all age groups) cite certain factors that enable positive experiences. First, the provider’s clear explanation of the condition and treatment is a top priority. People also respond to providers who show empathy—this is an essential part of humanizing healthcare. In fact, 65% of older adults said a provider who listens, understands and provides emotional support enables a positive healthcare experience. This finding demonstrates an opportunity for providers to combine technology and human ingenuity to give patients the information they need to feel knowledgeable about and secure in the care they are receiving.

Empathy and communication don’t begin and end with the doctor. The entire care team can work together to make care experiences better. Older adults (37%) say that well-coordinated care and communications between medical providers and their teams (e.g., other doctors, nurses, pharmacists) is important as is “nice and helpful” staff, according to 32% of those 55+.

Our research also revealed that efficient visits with short wait times were the fourth most important factor of a good experience and the leading cause of problems among negative experiences.

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Making the most of care experiences

The health experiences that older patients identified as positive and negative both show opportunities for growth and improvement if payers and providers respond. Here’s how: 

Make it easy for providers to clearly communicate. Use AI-generated recommendations for next-best action, share details on what to expect, offer information digitally about care management or updates on upcoming appointments. Integrate digital check-ins to enable post-visit or procedure self-reporting. Give patients the opportunity to ask questions of the care team. Creating a forum for real time or same day feedback enables providers to address them in real time and share information to assuage concerns. 

Ease the care team’s coordination.  Automate steps to reduce manual redundant processes and use AI prompts to enable handoffs among team members,such as medical assistant to nurse to doctor. Continually look for ways to simplify each healthcare interaction.

Reduce waits and delays.  Simplify the ways in which patients schedule a visit or have a health chat with a care team member. These interactions should be as simple as shopping online or booking a restaurant reservation. Other options include advanced check-ins, screening reviews and wait estimates with automated follow up.

Integrate real-time experience monitoring and recovery. Shift potentially negative experiences at every touchpoint with real-time monitoring through social listening, feedback and service recovery. Having a real-time question forum and feedback loop can result in posting positive ratings, giving staff feedback or escalating a disgruntled patient for outreach to solve the problem.

Willingness to switch, defer and halt care will only make matters worse for patients, providers and payers. By delivering better experiences that are empathetic, informative, efficient and that directly engage older adults in managing their health, payers and providers can meet older adults where they are – before they defect to the new players disrupting the health provider ecosystem. 

[1] 2021 Accenture Health and Life Sciences Experience Survey

Linda MacCracken

Associate Director – Consulting, Health, North America

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