Researcher Sheds Light on Health Care Industry in Post-COVID World

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Ryan Donohue of the National Research Corporation was the keynote speaker at Good Shepherd Health Care System's Community Meeting held Wednesday, Nov. 8 at the Eastern Oregon Trade & Event Center. (Photo by Michael Kane)

In some ways, the health care industry has changed dramatically in the post-COVID world. In other ways, not so much.

Ryan Donohue shed light on the post-pandemic health care industry Wednesday night as keynote speaker during Good Shepherd Health Care System’s Community Meeting at the Eastern Oregon Trade & Event Center.

“It’s a strange time right now because it doesn’t quite feel like it did before COVID and that’s affecting health care,” said Donohue, who is the corporate director of program development with National Research Corporation Health, the largest surveyor of health care consumers in the U.S.

Donohue, the author of Considering the Customer: Understanding & Influencing Healthcare’s Newest Change Agent, spoke of what it means to be both a consumer and patient. He recalled the battles he would have with his mother in the cereal aisle of the grocery store.

“My mom thought it was OK to buy generic Cheerios,” he said, drawing knowing laughter from the audience. “It wasn’t OK to me as a 7-year-old boy. I wanted the brand, and she was going for the value.”

As consumers of health care, we all have to balance value with the brand, Donohue said. Eventually, everyone becomes a patient at some point and for many, that can be stressful.

In his work, Donohue conducts a lot of research, surveying patients about their health care experiences.

“One of the things we’ve done coming out of COVID is we’ve talked to people who’ve had a patient experience in the last 18 months,” Donohue said. “They were asked what’s the most common emotion that they felt as a patient.”

The answer, he said, was confusion. And while that is not an optimal emotion, it is not entirely a bad thing.

“A confused audience is an audience trying to figure this out – they’re just having trouble doing so,” Donohue said. “But in health care, we’re trying to figure out a way to get past confusion.”

In recent years, Donohue has asked patients to draw a picture of their health care journey. What he found was that most drawings did not consist of straight lines, but lots of circles, zig zags and doubling back.

“One consumer said he drew a maze without realizing out,” Donohue said. “He felt really alone.”

Donohue said the patient told him he wanted a guiding force, someone to lead him through the maze of health care so the next time he can walk through this journey with confidence, and not only be a good consumer, but a good patient and ultimately be healthy.

“That’s what all of us want,” Donohue said.

Despite the confusion many people feel during their health care experiences, Donohue found that most people have a high rate of satisfaction regarding the health care industry.

A recent survey found that only 1 in 10 people say their outlook on health care providers has worsened since COVID. More than 1 in 4 say it has improved, while 63 percent say it’s the same.

“I gotta tell you, any industry would take those results,” Donohue said.

Donohue said the most important metric he uses to gauge people’s views of the health care industry is their level of trust.

“If we look at trust, which is something I’ve been tracking since 2006, if you’re a human being providing health care, people trust you more than any other institution in health care,” he said. “People have more trust in nurses and doctors. They are still heroes to many people and highly trusted.”

The survey showed nearly 71 percent trusted nurses and doctors. People also place higher expectations on the health care field than any other industry, including banks, airlines and restaurants.

That, said Donohue, hasn’t changed much in the past decade. What has changed post-COVID, he said, is people want more flexibility. Ironically, Donohue said, in the early stages of the pandemic, many people were reluctant to use telemedicine, preferring, instead, to see their doctor in person.

“What’s interesting now is we are returning to physical visits, which we want,” he said. “But we also kind of want to know when we can do something virtually. If I just have a couple of questions and I want to consult with someone, can I do that from my couch? Do I have to go in?”

Donohue has found that patients, in general, like their health care providers, their nurses, their physicians. The problem is they want more access and telemedicine can provide that, he said.

The most important thing people want from the health care industry is knowing their doctor or nurse cares about them as individuals. He shared a story of taking his family on their first-ever trip to Disneyworld. He and his 7-year-old son, who had never been on a roller coaster before, went on the Space Mountain ride.

His son is thrilled with expectations through the roof – until the ride starts and he becomes terrified. Then tragedy strikes when his favorite Kansas City Royals baseball hat flies off and gets lost. The son is upset and Dad is at a loss for what to do.

“A Disney employee saw the whole thing and came up and asked, ‘How may I help?’ She took down the information, said she would look for the hat and pointed out a nearby store where another hat could be purchased,” Donohue said. “It was a classic case of expectations being really high and the experience really low,” he said.

About a week after returning home, a package arrived in the mail from Disneyworld. They had found the treasured Royals hat and sent it back to his son, who was ecstatic.

“The point I want to make is that person did not have to come up to us and ask, ‘How may I help?’ But she did,” Donohue said. “We want that in Disneyworld. We want that in health care. It’s such a powerful thing when it does happen.

“In health care, when we’re at our best, and when we allow consumers and patients to be at their best, that can change not only that person’s world, but the entire world.”

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