Only 19% of Customers Are Happy With Their Healthcare Experience—How Pharma Can Change That

Everyone in healthcare is well aware of the changes reshaping the landscape, from regulatory shifts to health insurance marketplaces. But it is easy to ignore the most important change of all: Patients are more powerful than they’ve ever been. The same revolution of consumerism that’s shaking up the way the world buys financial services, airline tickets, and groceries is finally underway in healthcare too. Armed with digital tools, they are poised to upend every traditional business model, and pharma won’t be spared.

Prophet recently partnered with GE Healthcare Camden Group to publish “The State of Consumer Healthcare: A Study of Patient Experience from Prophet and GE Healthcare Camden Group,” a report that delves into consumer and provider perceptions of the healthcare experience. We surveyed 3,000 consumers and 300 senior leaders (Vice President or higher) at healthcare provider systems that employ at least 20 physicians. Consumers were between the ages of 18 and 65 and indicated that they are a healthcare decision maker or influencer in their household.

Our research found a shocking 81% of the consumers we surveyed are unhappy with the patient experience. And the more they interact with the healthcare system, the more they dislike it. Three out of four frequent healthcare consumers say they are frustrated, compared to 48% of patients who use the system less frequently. That number jumps to an alarming 86% among frequent-use millennials.

And while providers certainly have some inkling of patient frustration, they misjudge it: The providers in our research overestimate the quality of the experience they provide by more than 20%.

Unsurprisingly, disruption in healthcare is already underway. Those dissatisfied patients, when presented with viable alternatives, are beginning to take their business elsewhere. We found 73% of millennials, who will soon account for 50% of the workforce, are willing to visit on-demand medical centers, while 64% would use retail clinics, and 52% telemedicine. New companies such as ZocDoc, PillPack, and Oscar that are offering people alternative solutions to their healthcare needs are quickly growing in popularity, and this means lost revenue for traditional healthcare companies.

Historically, the healthcare industry has not been known for its fast-paced innovation and prowess in digital technology, but now is the time to change that. Why? Because consumers are demanding it. As people become increasingly reliant on technology in all aspects of their lives, they expect every company to be as easy to use as Amazon, Spotify, or Uber. They’re discouraged that even the simplest things—like scheduling an appointment or processing a payment, which is effortless in other industries—are positively painful in healthcare.

A New Ecosystem is Emerging

As we’ve seen across other industries, digital technology is creating spectacular new opportunities for innovation, fueled by consumer interactions that are increasingly mobile, social, and in real time. On par with this trend, a number of new entrants to the healthcare industry have already won admiration and loyalty from both patients and providers. Take for example:

IBM Watson, especially its groundbreaking work in oncology with Memorial Sloan-Kettering, and the ability to match patients with clinical trials.

RubiconMD, which connects clinics to top specialists, streamlining the complex referral process.

ZocDoc, with a rating and ranking system so seamless that choosing a doctor is as easy as making a dinner reservation.

Vitality, a company that has created a mini-ecosystem of apps, providers, and employers, making it fun for people to live healthier lives.

Seeing these innovations from technology-based outsiders, traditional players are also beginning to form partnerships. Novartis and Google, for example, expect to have smart contact lenses in clinical trials this year, and are working on lenses that also measure glucose levels of those with diabetes. Cigna and Samsung have partnered to create Coach by Cigna which leverages the SHealth platform on Samsung mobile devices to help people make better lifestyle choices.

This new ecosystem of outsiders, startups, traditional players, and technology partners is creating both immense opportunities, and viable threats, for the pharmaceutical industry.

Digital Tipping Point

Pharma brands have the opportunity to use digital tools and technologies to create profound new utility for patients, while also generating significant returns. However, pharma companies must be willing to change their legacy mindset, and rethink the traditional role they have played in consumers’ lives.

The heart of all transformation begins with the simplest question: What does the customer need? Although digital is just a tool that enables companies to meet those needs—not an end in itself—when applied intelligently, it can help drive significant revenue growth. In fact, according to a report by CapGemini Consulting, 26% of digitally mature companies are 26% more profitable than their industry peers and 12% of companies with stronger digital transformation achieve 12% higher market valuations.

So how can pharma brands capitalize on the opportunities digital technology presents? They must shift their orientation from remediating disease to addressing health issues. This mindset change immediately opens up new opportunities to support patients throughout their healthcare journey—not just at the moment they fall sick.

It also forces pharma brands to rethink legacy practices and leverage digital to engage with patients in more relevant ways. For example, shifting the mindset of the industry would change how pharma companies:

• Gather consumer insights: Digital health data can generate remarkable new insights faster and more accurately than traditional methods. And new sources of data—such as wearable medical devices and patient-generated data (from sites like from—can be translated to insights in near real time.

• Create content: For pharmaceutical and medical device companies, content has long been highly regulated. But what if content isn’t generated by the brand? What if it becomes not just a way to push information to consumers, but a source of data and a measure of engagement? Digital is creating opportunities for content to become a powerful tool to support patients across their healthcare journey.

• Position their brands: As treatment choices for a given diagnosis continue to grow, pharma brands have traditionally sought to differentiate their offering on the basis of safety, efficacy, and convenience. However, brands now have the opportunity to extend their differentiation based on additional factors, including a patient-centered digital experience and partnerships across an ecosystem of third-party players (such as wearables and fitness device makers). In other words, experience can become a component of the brand’s position rather than just an activation of the brand after it has been defined.

• Engage physicians: Physicians are very digitally savvy in their personal lives. However, when dealing with various stakeholders in their professional lives, they are limited by archaic systems and tools from a different era. Pharma brands have the opportunity to create new ways to engage with physicians digitally through communities, networks, and knowledge platforms, rather than traditional models that are increasingly diminishing in relevance.

After years of talking about moving beyond the pill, this new thinking requires taking giant steps away from products and toward patients. Of course, consumers care about the efficacy and safety of drugs they take. But at a time when so many drugs are similar, delivering a complete, compassionate patient experience will make the difference.

Pharmaceutical companies have the opportunity to stop thinking in pieces, and instead ask the bigger questions: How is my brand going to continue to learn? What will the world be like when my drug launches three years from now? How will the conversation be different?

For pharma brands bold enough to meet them on their own terms, to use digital to achieve true patient centricity, the opportunities are vast. And those who aren’t? They’ll be left behind, just one more ignored brand.

  • Saurabh Wahi

    Saurabh Wahi is an Associate Partner in Prophet’s New York office. With over 14 years of consulting and agency experience, Saurabh focuses on helping CMOs solve strategic challenges so they can grow better businesses.


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