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U.S. Health System Again Named Most Expensive, Least Effective

United States Healthcare“We’re Number One!” is usually a chant associated with the thrill of victory, but in the latest report released by NY-based think tank Commonwealth Fund, the top ranking afforded the U.S. health system won’t win over many fans.

Once again, the United States claimed both first and last place, a disappointing combination of most expensive and least effective health care among ten other western, industrialized nations. But all is not lost. Individual insurers and care providers can help turn those scores around with some new plays using healthcare market research to better manage costs and improve outcomes.

How the U.S. Stacks Up Against the Rest

Washington Post coverage of the report highlights the overall standings, as well as performance in six key categories.

The United Kingdom’s oft-maligned, National Health Service (NHS) has racked up some impressive improvements in the latest data collected by the Commonwealth Fund. It moved from third place among five countries in the 2004 report, to first place among the 11 countries evaluated — a group which also included Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.S.

The U.K.’s success was attributed to “systematic attention to increasing resources in the system,” actions which included adding specialists, establishing quality targets for family doctors, and implementing information sharing systems.

On the other hand, the U.S. has not made any significant strides in the past decade. Where do we stand?

  • Overall Ranking — 11th
  • Quality Care — 5th
  • Effectiveness — 3rd
  • Safety — 7th
  • Coordinated Care — 6th
  • Patient-Centered Care — 4th
  • Access — 9th
  • Cost Related Problem — 11th
  • Timeliness of Care — 5th
  • Efficiency — 11th
  • Equity — 11th
  • Healthy Lives — 11th
  • Health Expenditures per Capita — 11th

To be fair, ACA-mandated health reforms were not fully implemented when the Commonwealth Fund conducted its study. As previously uninsured consumers become covered under the federal and state insurance exchanges that opened for the first time in 2013, we should expect to see gains in Access and Equity rankings.

The report also drew the ire of some Washington Post readers who were quick to point out that the size and diversity of the United States is unsuited to such “apple-to-apple” comparisons. Moreover, the rankings do not rest solely on the shoulders of the healthcare system, as the report acknowledges that a large number of low-income residents skip needed care, do not get recommended tests or do not fill prescriptions. Motivated and activated patients prioritize this care and pursue healthy behaviors.

Three Areas Where Healthcare Market Research Can Help Drive Improvements

The lead author of the report notes that government mandates, incentives and penalties may encourage change, but individual players from across the health care industry must get in the game, too. And that’s where healthcare market research can have a positive impact.

  1. Coordinated Care. Both Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and hospitals need to find ways to better manage the patient experience in order to avoid penalties and reduce unnecessary healthcare spending. Using healthcare consumer insights health care providers can understand quality healthcare from the patients’ perspective and fine-tune communications to be more relevant — and ultimately more effective — in driving desired behaviors and achieving better patient outcomes.
  2. Patient-Centered Care. The new health care model demands better patient-physician relationships, which means connecting on a more meaningful level. Physicians who leverage psychographic segmentation are better able to motivate patients based on their unique goals and influences.
  3. Healthy Lives. Increasingly, hospitals and insurers are invested in overall population health. Healthcare market research offers these organizations insights into populations to anticipate their needs and treat the community at large, including those patients in the lower socioeconomic tiers.

Beyond driving improvements — and boosting future rankings — healthcare market research is a critical tool for health care providers, insurers, pharmaceutical companies and others.  

Hospitals, particularly in saturated markets, need to strengthen customer acquisition and retention with effective marketing campaigns. Insurers, who in the past relied heavily on selling to employers, must actively court individuals through federal and state insurance exchanges. 

With patients acting more like consumers, these organizations must develop proactive brand messaging, along with product and service differentiation to attract and win customers.

In the aggregate, a more consumer-centric approach should help drive improvements in the US health system.

Psychographic Segmentation and its Practical Application in Patient Engagement and Behavior Change

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