Telling It Like It Is: HealthSparq’s Most Memorable Moments from Consumer Panels 2018

We love putting people at the center of what we do – we believe that people and patients should be at the center of everything in health care. So, in addition to our What’s the Fix? activities, we take every opportunity we can at industry events to put real health care consumers at the forefront of conversations. That means that instead of standing up and talking about ourselves at the conferences we go to, we often bring in patients and regular people “off the street” to talk to industry executives about their health care experiences. We have found that it’s a powerful and educational experience for everyone.

Here are the best takeaways we heard from our consumer panels in 2018 – and we’re looking forward to even more great insights to drive change and get people to think differently about health care coming up in 2019!

Keep diverse populations in mind

Where people live, their income levels, education, race, environmental factors, access to health services and employment status are all factors in health and effectiveness of care – in addition to regular demographic details like age. This year we heard a few powerful reminders about the importance of keeping diverse populations in mind when it comes to all things in health care – including health benefits coverage and health plan communications.

In September, we travelled to Boston to host a conference panel focused completely on social determinants of health (SDOH). One panelist, Deborah, highlighted just how difficult and frustrating the health care system can be for someone who has both experienced racism as a black woman and who has been homeless. “I feel like I’m not part of the game…I’ve felt judged by providers and I just want to talk to someone who understands me. I want a human connection again.”

Self-service and technology-focused interactions only go so far; a human touch is still important

In December, we brought four panelists to AHIP’s Consumer Experience and Digital Health Forum to share their experiences with their health plan’s online portals and communications. There, we heard from Stephen, who thinks of online portals a lot like the self-service check-out lines at Walmart. “I don’t mind using them, but if I have a real issue or problem, I want to talk to the manager.” He went on to say, “It sure would be great if I could have one number where a human would actually answer. Just one human that kind of cares.”

And at a millennial-focused panel last February, we heard that even for digital natives, it’s not all about technology. We heard several variations of the same message from our panelists, including:

  • “When you’re sick, you almost want someone to take care of you. We want someone to say, ‘I’m going to hold your hand and take care of you.’ I think online seems like a robot on the other end and they don’t know what your history is.”
  • “I like speaking to someone directly because you get treated differently.”
  • “I got lost in the website so I called my customer care. I prefer calling.”
  • “You want to talk to someone because you’re in pain and you don’t want to read through tiny letters, what you care about is feeling better.”
  • “If it was easy online, things would be different. But with how many options I had to go through, it was easier just to call.”

Health care is still way too complicated

“Health care is too confusing” remains the most frequent thing we hear – and remained so in 2018. In Boston, we heard that even the people on the other end of the phone line are confused when it comes to benefits information – and it’s negatively impacting consumers.

“Even the people billing you are confused. I’m educated and work in software and I get confused all the time,” said Boston panelist Jorge. “Why can’t it be simpler? I had a procedure once where they said it’s $100 if you do it one way or $5,000 for a different way. How is that even possible? I suggest a website that provides clear charges. Get rid of all the fine print and long tables. Just tell me, if you do this, you’ll pay X.”=

All of our millennial panelists back in February had something to say about health care complications, specifically citing all the packets, paperwork, and information involved in making a selection. When it came down to it, panelists Ben, Ryan and Dom said that the information was delivered in “huge lists and with tiny words” and they just “don’t care about any of that.” Itzel added, “What’s the difference between a general practice doctor and an ER doctor? Trying to wrap my head around my benefits, caps, and when you’re going to pay for it. Dumb it down, right now it’s super lengthy and complicated.”

Another great quote came from Lisa: “…when you get the email about what your health insurance is, you need to set aside an hour or two to understand it. It’s not like when you’re planning a visit that you can whip out your booklet to see what is covered or not. I don’t know if a provider can help you figure that out or if someone can do a flowchart of how visits work, who I can see, how much is covered, but that would be really helpful.”

Read more in these related blog posts from each of our panels: