There’s no doubt the health system has undergone a large transformation during the pandemic, particularly in the adoption of virtual care. But even amid all the supposedly user-friendly digitization, overall patient experience remains frustrating for most, according to this year’s “Future of Health Experiences” report from consultancy R/GA.

Not surprising, the report called out the myriad complexities of the insurance ecosystem as well as the financial burdens associated with circa-2021 healthcare in the U.S. But it also revealed substantial issues around transparency of information, said R/GA associate director of marketing Erik Oster.

“We found that the information gap was nearly as much of a barrier across respondents as money, which we assumed to be a big one,” Oster explained.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents said this information gap represented one of the biggest barriers to care, narrowly trailing the 40% who pointed to financial burdens. Twenty-seven percent said that the healthcare system was “too overwhelming.”

Oster pointed out that a greater sense of disconnection underlines negative patient experiences. To address it, he said, organizations need to identify the institutions trusted by different demographics. For example, Baby Boomers still consider primary care physicians (PCPs) as their most trusted health relationship.

“That shows there could be an opportunity for PCPs to facilitate better connections with patients,” Oster explained. “The disconnection in health infrastructure is something that people view as a large barrier to care.”

The R/GA report also touched on gender-related disparities. Women respondents said they often feel dismissed by healthcare providers, with the issue particularly acute among women of color. Seventy percent of respondents with “medically unexplained symptoms” were women.

Those disparities are particularly stark in the realm of mental health, with 42% of women in the study reporting that they had anxiety or depression, versus just 26% of men. 

“Particularly at a time when the connection between mental and physical health is even more recognized, it seems to be an area where there’s an opportunity for more work to be done,” Oster said.

He pointed to digital health records as a information gap/disconnectivity flashpoint. Though 86% of office-based physicians have transitioned to digital health records, they largely remain inaccessible – and thus of little use – to many patients. More than 30% of respondents said they were unwilling to share their health records for more convenience, compared to 40% who were willing to share and 28% who were neutral.

“Patient experience really hasn’t caught up to where it needs to be,” Oster explained. “We need to convince people they should care about their digital health records, because most people are somewhat undecided about how willing they are to share that information for greater access. We haven’t convinced them that we’re designing experiences that provide them with meaningful value.”