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Consumer experience in 2023, and its critical role in PX

In brief

How do people make healthcare decisions today? 1,000 consumers weigh in.

  • Online search kicks off the journey. The use of search engines like Google has finally eclipsed provider referrals in how patients choose a new primary care provider.
  • Patient reviews of providers are table stakes. Reading reviews is embedded in the research process. They lend credibility to providers and organizations. Consumers value review quality, average rating, review recency, total number of reviews, and widespread availability of healthcare provider reviews of (i.e., on more than one website) during this evaluation process.
  • Great CX sets the stage for great PX. People don’t distinguish between different touchpoints—the patient experience (PX) is one continuous journey that starts long before any face-to-face, clinical interaction. Before someone steps through your doors, how easy it was to find care and book an appointment influences their perception of the overall experience.

Great news for healthcare: The investment organizations have made to create digital front doors and exceptional digital patient experiences has worked. Consumers love the industry's commitment to convenient, streamlined, easily accessible care.

You can see the return on investment when we look at how consumers are making their healthcare decisions today. But what’s changed in the last year? We surveyed 1,000 healthcare consumers to learn how people find, research, and choose healthcare and providers. Our findings provide a blueprint for savvy organizations looking to prioritize their digital-forward strategies—and increase patient acquisition in the processes.

Technology continues to dominate healthcare consumer behavior. But those behaviors are more nuanced.

The data from our most recent consumer survey paints an optimistic picture of where healthcare is today—and what the future holds. Nearly 60% of patients now call the processes of finding care easy or, at least, “not difficult.” Just a few years ago, that number was 45.6%—and the gains we’ve seen are something to celebrate. All efforts to streamline the patient journey with digital tools—tools that meet consumers where they are, and give them access to the information they want—are truly valued, and they've removed friction from the process of accessing care.

But what about the other 40%? According to our research, the top barrier is finding a provider with appointment availability. This is an opportunity for healthcare organizations to offer visibility into a provider’s schedule online—in listings and profiles. Our research further underscores the importance of consumer-friendly profiles. The #1 factor when selecting a provider is the quality and completeness of their profile—that is, thinking beyond the barebones “name, address, phone number” to showcase how they deliver care. Move beyond hobbies and interests: Consumers want to know how your team works together, your specific clinical expertise, and your understanding of patient concerns in your area.

1. Online search has reached a tipping point

The web has dictated consumer behaviors for years. But now, for the very first time, consumers are more likely to use search engines than provider referrals in the hunt for a new provider. 22.3% of consumers initially turn to search engines (like Google) when choosing a new PCP, while provider referrals dropped into second place (18.7%). And 58.8% of consumers have used a search engine to find care. Overall, digital still dominates. Patients rely on digital sources 3.1x more than provider referrals—and 2x more than provider and personal referrals combined.

This convergence gives the industry positive momentum, as we see the winds of change start to shift again. Exciting new technology like generative AI is poised to enter the mainstream, driving the next evolution of consumer online search.

2. High-quality, high-star reviews are the cost of entry

Consumer trust drives patient acquisition. And building that trust starts with online reviews.

In an era when patients are in more control of their healthcare and spending more of their own dollars to buy it, consumers trust patient reviews to help them understand the experience they will have. They don't view healthcare as a transaction; instead, they view it as a long-term relationship. People expect to see a robust inventory of authentic, informative reviews when they come across a provider profile. Provider ratings and reviews are the #1 factor in a patient’s decision-making process—with facility ratings and reviews coming in second.

Reviews are, today, table stakes for organizations looking to grow their patient base. One in three patients says that not having enough reviews would discourage them from seeing any particular provider. Across all demographics, most consumers agree that 4 stars (out of 5) is the lowest-acceptable rating. Any less, and they’re likely to seek care elsewhere.

Healthcare organizations that share robust review data—like publishing comments from PX surveys online and making sure it’s easy to leave feedback—will have an even bigger edge in the new year.

3. All experiences are connected in the healthcare consumer journey

The Human Experience of healthcare doesn’t differentiate. Consumers equate the ability to have current information on digital listings with attention to detail in the safe delivery of care. The aperture of experience is now wider, starting with that first digital search and lasting long beyond clinical encounters.

We’ve made great strides in our clinical interactions. But now consumers want us to bring that same experience spotlight to our processes. They want healthcare to be easier. Reducing friction in healthcare—that is, helping them find and choose providers, schedule appointments, communicate, manage billing, and beyond—is key to the overall experience, as consumers’ ability to add more burden to their lives is maxed out. When frustrations add up, it’s more likely that patient churn and referral leakage will result.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll explore all these topics—and more—in greater detail. You can use our insights to help you develop and hardwire a comprehensive consumer experience strategy into your business plan for the coming year.

For more information, download our report: “Consumer experience trends in healthcare 2023.” Or simply reach out to a CX expert to discuss our findings 1:1.

On Wednesday, December 6, I’ll be joined by our very own Pranav Desai, SVP and GM, Consumer Experience, to discuss the top CX trends to leverage in your 2024 strategy. Register for our webinar to get a deep dive into this data—and what it all means for the future of patient experience.  

About the author

Chrissy collaborates with teams across Press Ganey to design, develop, and deliver strategies to boost patient experience that are informed by over 400 million patient voices. Chrissy works closely with healthcare organizations nationwide as a strategic and operational partner. Chrissy brings over 30 years of expertise in advancing the patient experience and building an engaging and collaborative culture. Frequently called upon as a guest speaker, she is widely recognized for her pioneering work in healthcare consumerism and physician performance data transparency.

Profile Photo of Chrissy Daniels