A majority of health consumers say reducing the cost of healthcare is more important than having access to innovative treatment options, according to the Hill+Knowlton Strategies Health Innovations Poll, conducted in collaboration with the firm’s Research+Data Insights unit to assess the public’s view on the state of healthcare and how factors such as cost, access, innovation and reputation influence their healthcare decisions.

“With consumers facing so many complex decisions about healthcare, public opinion is in a constant state of flux,” says Susan Thiele, senior VP and US healthcare practice director at H+K Strategies. “What the public needs and what it ultimately values—and will pay for—are not always the same thing. In this environment, it’s critical to understand shifting public opinion so that new advances are developed and positioned in a way that’s meaningful to consumers. The healthcare industry strives for innovation, but innovation alone does not ensure success.”

More than half of respondents see the high costs associated with medical care and health coverage as the most pressing healthcare problem. When it comes to their own care, it’s also the issue that they worry about the most.

Cost is also a critical driver of behavior, despite the fact that 78 percent of respondents do not want to consider it when making healthcare decisions. In the past two years, concern over cost has prompted 34 percent of those surveyed to put off medical treatment and 31 percent to skip or postpone a regular doctor’s visit.

Despite their concern over healthcare costs, nearly nine in 10 surveyed agreed that it’s important to be able to choose whichever treatment they prefer. While people do not want companies to cut back on development in order to keep treatment costs down, access to innovative therapies is not considered critical when defining high quality care. Rather, access to quality primary care physicians, medical institutions and specialists are judged to be the most important characteristics (53 percent, 17 percent and 16 percent, respectively).

When asked an open-ended question about what healthcare innovation meant to them, lowering costs/improving affordability of care was at the top of the list ahead of incremental improvements, finding new treatments and better quality of care. Nevertheless people are willing to pay for innovation if they view its benefit as meaningful to them.

When people make health decisions, the reputation of a company or institution is important. Among those surveyed, reputation is a key consideration when selecting a health insurer or medical facility (68 percent and 76 percent, respectively). Awareness of a company or treatment can also influence a patient’s health discussions with his or her healthcare provider (73 percent).

According to H+K, key industry takeaways include:
• When it comes to healthcare, people are in a stage of wishful thinking – they know that changes must be made yet are resistant to making trade-offs.
• Innovation must be grounded in public insight – what the public needs and what it values is not always aligned.
• Public opinion will evolve along with the environment – ongoing polling provides an opportunity to course correct as opinion shifts.