Posted on Aug 02, 2011 by Sergio Ulloa
Global economic uncertainty has made access to affordable healthcare a key challenge for many consumers worldwide. A recent survey conducted by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions has revealed that people from all across the world are now altering their spending habits, turning ever more price-conscious and even delaying treatment in fear of rising healthcare costs and their government's prevailing inability to offer valid solutions. What was once thought of as a recession-proof business, the healthcare industry could be alarmed to discover that consumers have become increasingly conservative in just the past two years.
Deloitte's Survey of Health Care Consumers has been conducted annually since 2008. For its 2011 study
, the consulting firm conducted a poll during April and May, which surveyed over 15,000 self-identified healthcare consumers from the following 12 countries: Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Mexico, Portugal, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. The survey's methodology aims for respondents who are nationally representative of each country surveyed with respect to age and gender participation. Once identified, participants were first asked to respond to a set of common questions, followed by a series of queries more specified to their country's healthcare system and customer experience.
The countries chosen for this study encompass a variety of diverse political and economic realities that have each managed to address their national healthcare systems in different ways. Citizens from each of these countries, in turn, can provide a multitude of opinions regarding the effectiveness and purpose of their respective social care systems. Deloitte has revealed however, that in conjunction with the increased interconnectivity of the global economy, healthcare expectations have become increasingly standardized and consumers have become more willing to voice their concerns when their government fails to meet recognizable objectives.
According to the survey, consumers have graded the overall ability of their healthcare system to match these expectations very differently. Customer satisfaction scores ranged from 41 percent of Belgian respondents who claimed to be very satisfied, to 11 percent of Portuguese, and 7 percent of all Brazilians surveyed who felt the same way. In most countries, Deloitte revealed that the proportion of people who felt very satisfied with their healthcare system performance was usually between 2 in 10 and 3 in 10 consumers. Interestingly, Deloitte also noted that while most respondents could not demonstrate a strong understanding of how their respective healthcare system worked, the vast majority were certain their governments were not doing a good job balancing spending priorities and that these healthcare systems were in fact overtly wasteful and underperforming relative to what they knew of other countries. Less than one in five of all those polled agreed with the proposition that "government is doing a good job balancing priorities in the health care system."
The depressed economic outlook for much of the industrialized world has contributed further to mounting consumer discontent. Deloitte found that most respondents now felt less financially prepared and did not believe they could exert control over the broad rise in health care costs. Paul Keckley, executive director for Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, wrote in the report that regardless of their respective country's type of healthcare system, public or private-run, "consumers around the world are feeling the pinch."
"We have been examining consumers' interactions with the health care system since 2008. A new trend has emerged this year suggesting that economic uncertainty has clearly altered spending habits with many consumers reporting an impact on their out-of-pocket health care expenses," Mr. Keckley added.
This trend is most readily apparent in the United States where three-quarters of consumers admitted that the poor economic climate has had an adverse affect on their willingness to spend on health care. Survey data exposed that nearly half of all consumers worldwide had experienced some increase in health care costs in the past year. Twenty percent of all respondents claimed to have cut back on healthcare spending already, with a further 13 percent having reduced their health expenditure considerably. Most worryingly, a majority of those surveyed, with exception of the UK and Canada, said that their monthly healthcare costs had limited their household's ability to purchase other essential items, like groceries and fuel.
Deloitte's 2011 study further shows what respondents were willing to do in order to save money on healthcare. Over a third of all prescription medication users (36 percent) had asked their doctor to switch them over to a generic instead of the brand name drug they were on. Meanwhile, a quarter of all American consumers admitted to skipping a doctor visit or delaying treatment when sick or injured. Going forward, respondents are mixed in assessing their ability to handle escalating health care costs in the future. Least confident are consumers from Portugal (18 percent), Mexico, Brazil (both 22 percent), and the United States (23 percent).
These pronounced cost concerns have however yielded one very positive development during this economic downturn. Consumers are now more willing than ever to engage with and manage the performance of their own individual health plans. These same clients have largely identified technology-enabled solutions as a key part of the solution, with instant electronic communication between health providers and patients seen as a popular choice for improving both the cost efficiency and clinical effectiveness of their country's healthcare systems. Most consumers intimated that there does exist genuine opportunities for their country's health system to improve and many would like to believe they could be of help in attaining them.
Deloitte is the world's largest private professional services organization. The consulting firm, founded in 1845, now has over 170,000 staff, working out of 140 different countries. Deloitte provides audit, tax, consulting, enterprise risk and other financial advisory services through its many member firms.