Being a patient isn’t exactly a joyous experience even under the best of circumstances. You rarely come into it feeling physically or mentally sound. At the point of care, you’re greeted with a clipboard and a bemused smirk. Needles are often involved.

With the acute phase of the pandemic in the rearview mirror, there’s a sense that the healthcare system has returned to something approximating normalcy. The problem: “normal” doesn’t connote “good,” or anything close to it. Patients and health consumers, even ones with A-grade healthcare coverage, remain baffled by the system’s intricacy and intractability.

So for MM+M’s annual Patient Issue, we reached out to hundreds of health- and marketing-adjacent individuals and asked them to answer two questions about their personal experiences with the U.S. healthcare system. Here are a handful of the smartest and most thoughtful responses. Check out MM+M’s digital channels for additional commentary.

As either a patient or a consumer, what are the most acute pain points you feel in your interactions and engagements with the healthcare system?

“If you’d like to know what it must have been like to live in a Soviet state in the 1970s, just go to the ER with anything less than a recently severed limb. The wait, the forms and the lack of information combine to create a soul-numbing cross between the KGB and the movie Brazil. There have been improvements, but we are a long way from solving the problem.” — Ben Ingersoll, cofounder, writing, Minds + Assembly

“Months ago, I got a freckle removed without insurance at one of New York’s premier hospitals. I paid a flat fee of $250 for my less-than-10-minute-appointment. Imagine my surprise when I later received a bill for $850. When I called to inquire, I was told to disregard the bill because ‘that’s what the hospital would have sent to insurance.’” — Jessica Daponte, SVP, brand planning, ConcentricLife

“It does the opposite of serve patients. It feels like everything is set up and organized to make the office more efficient, or the billing more accurate, or to cover physician liability, or to stay within insurance company mandates, or to maximize profit/minimize time, effort and money spent by the healthcare system. The system exists to prop up the system. That’s why I haven’t been to my primary care physician in over two years.” — Mary Rose Burnham, EVP, strategy lead, brand and medical, Greater Than One

“The single largest pain point is rapidly declining service levels for pharmacies. While we’re all aware of the efforts of PBMs to drive rebate business, we’re less aware that they continue to drive down acquisition costs from pharmacies, mainly the dispensing fees paid to the pharmacy. These lowered costs prompt pharmacies to reduce staffing levels, while at the same time driving increased work for pharmacists, such as administering vaccines. Available pharmacist hours have been cut, which results in shorter windows of time where pharmacies are open and longer wait times for prescriptions.“ — Jay Carter, director of business development emeritus, AbelsonTaylor

“The healthcare system becomes most difficult to navigate when we are at our most vulnerable. When loved ones are at their sickest, we use precious energy advocating that we should be conserving for healing.” — Jessica Cerullo, SVP, JPA Health

“It is a web of medical mystery. We have no idea what medications our insurance covers or, too often, which physicians are included within our plan umbrella. If your clan is relatively healthy, the health information pain points are few and infrequent. But if your needs are abundant, the system can become a lead weight around your neck.” — Gil Bashe, managing partner, chair, global health and purpose, Finn Partners

What are actions that your physician — or your insurance provider, your pharmacy or any other health-adjacent institution with which you interact — could take to lessen the pain or frustration of your engagements with them?

“The insurance provider should send out a personalized annual report, documenting everything they covered (and didn’t cover) over the year for everybody on my insurance plan. That snapshot would quantify healthcare experience in a practical, yet meaningful way.” — Michael Austin, chief experience officer, ConcentricLife

“Learn motivational interviewing: Studies have shown that the best way to get patients to start a healthy behavior or stop an unhealthy behavior is not by fear-mongering or telling them what to do. It’s by asking more effective questions. Telling someone not to smoke anymore so they can better manage their diabetes will only further push the patient toward not confiding in the doctor about their smoking habits.” — Monisha Ahluwalia, strategy director, Humancare

“I wish every healthcare professional took patients seriously when they talk about their pain levels. Sometimes as a woman, any type of abdominal pain is brushed off with a suggestion to take four Advil and hope the pain goes away.” — Kara Bissonnette, manager of growth and business development, Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness

“Acknowledge patients’ physical and mental cues. Actions often speak louder than words, so healthcare providers must acknowledge other cues to really check in with patients and caregivers. This can provide incredible context.” — Diann Hamilton, EVP, account planning, Digitas Health

“As several of our healthcare KOLs have stated, ‘If you’ve seen one EHR system, then you’ve seen one EHR system.’ The systems are customized for each network and not compatible with other networks. They do not integrate with each other in any way, forcing me to advocate for my own care.” — Nancy Codoner, director of market access, McCann Health Managed Markets

“Appreciate that I’m the expert on me. Don’t make assumptions about me or my situation based on what you’ve seen or heard from your other patients.” — Rosanne Johnson, president, Evoke MicroMass

For more verbatim responses to the first question, click here. For the second question, click here.