Patients prefer in-person meetings with their healthcare providers (HCP) rather than virtual and they value access to care but often feel as though that access is below average, according to a recent survey from EY.

The EY Global Consumer Health Survey 2023 polled patients on issues like ease of using healthcare services as well as their healthcare values.

Overall, the survey found that consumers desire a more frictionless experience, a system that’s cost-effective and care that’s easy to access. However, only 37% of respondents said their healthcare systems provided good or excellent access to care.

Consumers also acknowledged that good healthcare is often a two-way street between the individual and the provider. 

People who believe they have good or excellent health are more likely to check in with a doctor for routine checkups. These so-called “proactive patients” are also more likely to consider using health tech and digital monitoring tools, like wearables or genetic testing.

Across the six countries surveyed, 48% of consumers said healthcare systems did fairly well with staying on top of emerging medical treatments. Nearly half said healthcare systems provided solid experiences regardless of factors like race, location or personal circumstance.

Still, access to care appears to be a thorn in the side of patient experiences, with only 37% of respondents reporting their health systems provided good or excellent access to care.

EY suggested that HCPs can improve on patient experiences by focusing on three to four main drivers of performance, as well as six other smaller drivers. 

Ease of using healthcare services, access to care and improving community health were rated as top priorities among patients, followed by customer services, value for money spent and finding the right balance between hospitals, primary and community care.

While listed lower on the priority list, patients still felt that cutting-edge treatments and innovations, a focus on mental health as well as environmental sustainability were also important for health systems to focus on moving forward.

Despite the uptick in virtual care since the COVID-19 pandemic, the survey also underlined a prominent theme in recent years: many patients still prefer in-person doctor visits. 

More than 80% of respondents said the ability to show their health problems to their doctor was the main reason behind why they still prefer in-person visits. More than three-quarters said developing a personal connection with their provider was also important, while 71% said the overall quality of the visit would be better in-person as opposed to virtually. Two-thirds said they felt more confident that their health concerns would be cared for in person.

Still, virtual visits have their benefits

In cases when patients don’t want to wait a long time for an appointment, or prefer a convenient chat with a doctor, virtual visits come in handy. Renewing prescriptions, discussing test results, having minor medical concerns and saving time were all listed as main reasons why patients would choose virtual care over in-person.

The EY report concludes by providing healthcare executives with five priorities to focus on in order to improve on patient access and experience.

Leaders must rethink how patients access care, empower patients with digital tools and tech, create improved experiences through data insights on the target population, boost the virtual experience and educate consumers on data sharing.

“The survey findings… show that people want to feel better and lessen their pain, so their engagement with the system should focus on lessening that pain and frustration,” the authors concluded.