With Kristopher Arcand

If the healthcare industry exhibited symptoms of dysfunction, the US government administered a wave of treatment in the form of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. October 2013 marked the opening of online insurance marketplaces, and set the stage for the act's requirement that most US residents have health insurance coverage. As a result, the industry has witnessed cessations and regenerations, and the pulse of consumer sentiment has fluctuated. Now, one year on, we’re due for a checkup.

At a macro level, US online consumers’ perspectives on healthcare reform today are largely consistent with those immediately preceding open enrollment under the federal law: Individuals continue to be skeptical of policy changes. However, at a micro level, subtle yet fundamental shifts in the consumer mindset signal a gradual evolution in perceptions of healthcare.

Our Technographics 360 research approach, which synthesizes Forrester’s ConsumerVoices Market Research Online Community insight and aggregated social listening data, shows that the conversation about healthcare has shifted from politics to experience — and, in particular, to a focus on cost:

On the one hand, even if they are not personally affected by the reform, consumers chime in on the basis of experiences they have heard about from friends, social media posts, or news stories. As a result, passions run high and social buzz spreads like wildfire. On the other hand, the renewed focus on the healthcare experience provides the industry with an opportunity to control the conversation and help it evolve further.

As we enter the second year of open enrollment on the state exchanges, health insurers will have a greater opportunity —and responsibility —to shift the healthcare focus from costs per procedures to a value based system where wellness and high-quality outcomes are financially rewarded. As health insurers become more closely associated with improving consumer health and wellness, investing in the quality and efficiency of care, and developing strong digital experiences, companies have the potential to improve consumer perceptions of the industry and change the nature of the conversation.

In his recent report, my colleague Skip Snow argues that “in response to the new laws and regulations — especially the Affordable Care Act — the health insurance industry is pivoting toward consumer-based business models . . . regulations mean healthcare payers must infuse 'customer' into their business.” By adopting this age of the customer mentality, insurers can join, manage, and direct the conversation about healthcare as it continues to unfold.

To view the full social listening and online community findings regarding the evolution of consumer perspectives on healthcare, please see the slideshow below:

Healthcare reform is a major point of debate in the upcoming mid-term elections. Get the webinar replay: The four citizen-driven imperatives that governments must embrace hosted by Jennifer Belissent, Ph.D.