Research for AZ Blues plan show patients want digital offerings

Patients appear willing to pay extra for digital healthcare services, but they aren’t ready to rate those encounters as better than a one-on-one encounter with a doctor.

The results come from an October survey of 1,531 residents of Arizona, believed to be reflective of the general population. They study was aimed at evaluating consumer interest in digital offerings, as well as their overall priorities and preferences in care.

Technology and innovation are flourishing, offering promise for improving care and lowering costs, yet health plans are increasingly stumped on how to get the equation right for consumers and on which digital offerings to cover, according to USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics, which partnered on the survey with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.

The study revealed that respondents are eager for digital services and willing to pay for them. More than half of the respondents said they want virtual office visits to get immediate answers to urgent healthcare issues. Almost seven out of 10 respondents said they would prefer an app or online system for appointment scheduling and healthcare reminders. And 45 percent said they would be willing to pay an average of $25 more per month to have these extra virtual benefits.

But when it comes down to it, consumers don’t want digital to replace in-person healthcare consultations. When researchers asked respondents to prioritize their healthcare preferences, high-quality interaction with their physicians still ranked much higher than digital services.

"It's our job to adapt the current healthcare ecosystem so that it aligns with how people want to receive their care today," says Pam Kehaly, president and CEO of BCBSAZ. She said the Blues plan will use the findings to set a baseline and to inform additional research and policy analysis.

BCBSAZ will be striving to get the right mix of digital and personal interaction for members. "We are working to better understand how to meet these priorities, using all the tools—including the exciting new technologies that are improving everyday—to make this happen," Kehaly says.

Dana Goldman, director of the USC Schaeffer Center, says the data suggests that consumer interest has been changing over the last decade. “Consumers are now more focused on costs and affordability, than access to a broad network of providers," she says.

It’s important to “disentangle these competing demands,” Goldman says, to better understand how health plans can deliver value and how digital services can enhance, rather than detract, from that goal.

The findings highlight the need for rigorous survey techniques to understand what consumers want, Goldman says. “People will say they are interested in many features, but in the real world they must make tradeoffs with valuable premium dollars to meet their priorities."

Download the full survey here.

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