Research: Most Vulnerable Patients Make Costly Surgery Decisions

A recent Goldfinch Health survey revealed critical insights into health literacy and the way consumers consider surgical decisions. Spoiler alert: novice surgical patients make costly decisions and they and their employers shoulder the consequences.

But, first, a bit of background.

We asked consumers:

Imagine you just found out you need surgery in one month, what would be important to your surgery decision?”

Consumers could choose one or more of the following answers:

  • The surgeon’s experience with the procedure
  • A protocol to minimize painkiller need/use
  • An approach to reduce recovery time
  • Distance to the surgeon
  • A referral from a healthcare provider
  • A minimally-invasive technique

We also asked:

“How familiar are you with surgery?”

(1 = not familiar at all, 5 = very familiar)

We grouped the consumers who identified as “1” or “2” as “Novices” and the consumers who identified as “4” or “5” as “Experts”. Predominantly young, lower-income consumers composed the Novice group, as you might expect. The Experts tended to be older with higher annual household income.

Across all respondents, two factors stood above the others:

  1. The surgeon’s experience with the procedure (65% of all respondents)
  2. A minimally-invasive technique (39%)

Yet, when factoring in pre-existing surgery/recovery expertise, we found notable variations in the way consumers make surgery decisions.

Experts reported relying most-heavily on the surgeon’s experience with the procedure (70% vs. 55%) when facing a decision.

Meanwhile, Novices leaned on:

  • Referrals (22% vs. 11%)
  • Distance to the surgeon (16% vs. 9%)
  • An approach to reduce recovery time (29% vs. 18%)

Not only are the Novices low in health literacy (at least when it comes to surgery), they are also more sensitive to time out of work. Take note of the emphasis the Novices placed on an approach to reduce recovery time in the data. It’s clear the Novices are a vulnerable population in need of 21st Century surgery—patient-centric, minimally-invasive and opioid-sparing—but ill-equipped to find it.

Decisions based on referral and geography, rather than quality indicators, lead to waste. This waste takes the form of complications, opioid use and unnecessary recovery time. Consumers bear the brunt of these costs, as do their employers.

A recent NPR article presented a comprehensive approach to making surgery-related decisions. Steps included:  searching the medical literature, seeking a second opinion, finding a super specialist, and interviewing the most promising physicians. While well-intended advice, most consumers—especially Novices—are likely looking for a simpler answer.

What if employers could provide vulnerable consumers, their employees, with a service to transform them into informed consumers of surgery services?

That is exactly the transformative service we are on a mission to provide.

Contact us to find out how Goldfinch can help your employees make more informed surgery decisions, avoid waste and get back to their lives sooner.

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