People love their grocery stores, but still hate Big Tobacco and Big Oil. The Harris Poll’s annual survey of how Americans view the nation’s industries is out for 2008, and health care organizations — except for hospitals — continue to lose favor with the public.

For over a decade, the poll has asked whether a particular industry is doing a “good or a bad job serving consumers.”

In addition to supermarkets, people like the jobs done by online search engines, computer hardware companies and software, hospitals, and Internet service providers.

The worst scores are given for tobacco, oil, managed care companies and health insurance. Other low reputation industries among American consumers are cable TV, pharma, and airlines.

Harris notes that six industries’ scores got even worse in the past year. These are online search engines, food companies, auto manufacturers, and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

This survey was conducted in July 2008.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: In my many years of consulting with health care stakeholder organizations, I often point to this annual survey. It is a good indication of how American consumers feel about the various organizations who are meant to serve their health. Hospitals, health plans, and pharmaceutical manufacturers all play major roles in American health care. However, except for the beloved local hospital (see Health Populi’s views on hospitals in this blog post), health plans and pharma aren’t perceived as doing the kind of good job that more consumer-facing companies are doing — like supermarkets, far and away the top-scoring industry in America.

Think about who’s not doing well among consumers: tobacco, oil, health plans, cable TV, pharma, and airlines, and the erosion of Big Food’s scores. Big Tobacco is, well, Big Tobacco. People perceive that Big Oil is gouging American families. Health plans often seem to under-insure us, or their premium increases are passed on to us and we don’t want to pay more for what seems to be eroding health services. Cable TV providers don’t compete, so we don’t like the effects of monopoly power: lack of service and high prices. Pharma is passing along higher prices for many drugs this year, and is still, well, Big Pharma: not coming up with cures for cancer and Parkinson’s, et al., as soon as we want them, in this lagging pipeline period. Airlines–well, if you’ve traveled recently you know you’re (1) more crowded, (2) more frequently delayed, and (3) paying a whole lot more for your ticket. And Big Food is problematic given the growing food scares of salsa, bagged spring mix, and tomatoes….and don’t forget those higher prices at checkout.

I’ve argued for several years now that consumers will look to health plans and pharma’s through the same lens as they do other products and services. Even if most Americans aren’t spending for first dollar coverage, they expect high levels of service and what they perceive to be quality from their health providers, plans and products.

Health stakeholders should take a page out of the highly-rated, consumer-centric supermarkets like Wegmans (the family-owned megastore with fresh and local food), Trader Joe’s (a great high value/lower cost retailer), and Costco. Also, check out a relatively new player in this space called Bloom, a subsidiary of Food Lion. They’re getting a lot right with convenience, quality, service and pricing. Their corporate mantra: treat customers like guests.

Now, that would be a novel concept for a health plan and a pharma manufacturer…

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