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The Reality of Consumerism on Healthcare
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
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Most experts will tell you that consumerism in the healthcare industry is an inescapable growing trend. According to the Institute of Healthcare Consumerism (IHC), “Patients are increasingly taking an active role in their care experience and are evermore empowered to choose their own care alternatives. With the current state of the economy, the cost of care and, most importantly, the quality and ease of service are crucial factors in determining patient satisfaction.” 

But what does that mean in practical terms? 

Deloitte explains in Health Care Consumer Engagement: No One-Size-Fits-All Approach that consumerism is defined generally as the “actions individuals take to become better informed and more directly and proactively involved in decisions and behaviors that affect their health, insurance coverage, and health care.” These actions may include: 

  • taking deliberate steps to monitor and improve their health
  • looking for information to learn more about health concerns and compare treatment options
  • taking cost and quality into consideration when choosing treatments, providers, and plans
  • partnering with doctors to make treatment decisions as well as communicating and sharing information with doctors
  • adhering to recommended treatment plans. 

Implementing a consumer-driven health plan is the right first step, but that alone is not sufficient to meet patient needs. Findings from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions 2015 Survey of US Health Care Consumers (see the infographic) provide evidence that consumer engagement is trending upward in three important areas: partnering with providers, tapping online resources, and relying on technology. 

Partnering with Providers 

“More consumers today prefer to partner with doctors instead of relying passively on them to make treatment decisions,” says Deloitte. In fact, 34 percent of survey respondents strongly believe that doctors should encourage patients to research and ask questions about their treatment, and 58 percent feel that doctors should explain treatment costs to them before they make any decisions. 

Although there is a greater expectation for personalized experience in healthcare, data from McKinsey finds that consumers don’t always know what they want from healthcare companies—or what drives their decisions. “Most consumers have strong opinions about what matters to them when they make healthcare decisions or receive healthcare services. The evidence suggests, however, that there is often a disconnect between what consumers believe matters most and what influences their opinions most strongly,” write McKinsey analysts in Debunking Common Myths About Healthcare Consumerism. 

“Consumers and healthcare leaders are both realizing that making healthcare choices is not the same as finding the best deal on a television set,” explains the HealthLeaders Media article, “How Real is Healthcare Consumerism?” Other concerns and motivations (stressful situations, urgency, need for specialists, and so forth) are at play when it comes to healthcare. Consequently, communication and patient education will no doubt need to play a key role in how healthcare providers partner with patients. 

Tapping Online Resources 

Given the evolution of technology, patients are used to having information at their fingertips and they see little reason for healthcare information and resources to be any different. In fact, according to Deloitte, 52 percent of patients report searching online for health- or care-related information. Additionally, use of social media, patient portals, and performance scorecards is growing. 

IHC agrees that healthcare providers will need to leverage online resources to improve the patient experience: “Health plans, providers, and life sciences companies may be able to accelerate consumer engagement by focusing on developing online information resources, mobile applications, and personal health devices that can help individuals in their patient populations and customer bases become more engaged.” 

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What’s more, there is a greater expectation for personalized experience, online tools that seek to know each patient, remember preferences, and engage with them via the communication channels they already use daily are expected to take patient care to the next level. These technologies will help organizations “build loyalty and customer satisfaction, which then leads to higher patient volumes, revenue, profitability and an overall standard of care,” says IHC. 

Some large health systems are also using online resources as response to the need for more transparency, recognizing that embracing transparency as a core principle can differentiate them from competitors. One-quarter of consumers tell Deloitte that they have looked at a scorecard or report card to compare the performance of doctors, hospitals, or health plans compared to 19 percent two years ago. Among Millennialsi who have needed medical care, scorecard use has grown from 31 percent to 49 percent. 

Roger C. Holstein, vice chairman of Healthgrades' board of directors, tells HealthLeaders Media, "The health systems rapidly adopting transparency are reaping the benefits because consumers are more likely to trust those who expose more content than those who don't." 

Relying on Technology to Monitor Health 

Deloitte data confirms something most of us already know: use of technologies to monitor health and manage treatment is on the rise, especially among younger consumers and individuals with major chronic conditions. Think Fitbit. 

Increasingly, consumers are using personal health devices, websites, and mobile apps to track changes in their health, receive alerts, transmit health data, and pay their medical bills. From 2013 to 2015, consumers’ use of technology to measure fitness and health improvement goals has grown from 17 percent to 28 percent, according to Deloitte. Not surprisingly, use is highest among Millennials, at 45 percent of that group. Among consumers with major chronic conditions, tech-based monitoring has jumped from 22 percent to 39 percent in the last two years. More than 60 percent of technology users say that utilizing health technologies has had a significant impact on their behavior. 

Although Deloitte finds that use of digital tools designed to help consumers stick to their treatment plan is low, it appears to be rising. Among consumers who take prescription medications, for instance, 13 percent report receiving electronic alerts or reminders; this ranges from five percent of Seniors up to 29 percent of Millennials. Over half of current medication users express interest in using technology to prompt them to take their medication; 42 percent haven’t yet tried this kind of support. 

There also is growing interest among consumers to communicate electronically with providers. Deloitte’s survey finds that one in five consumers using medical care has done so. For example, rates of conferring with doctors via email, texting, or video have doubled in the last two years, signifying digital communication between consumers and providers may continue trending upward. 

Deloitte even suggests that email and texting might at times help consumers avoid a trip to the doctor. IHC concurs, predicting that the next wave of healthcare consumerization could means using a patient’s context, localization, and mobility preferences in relationships with local industry. For example, if Patient-X is on a diabetic diet and walks into a restaurant, a provider application can assess what they should eat from the menu. If there is a promotion at a fitness club in the community, a provider could notify a patient and encourage them to start their exercise. 

Looking Ahead 

“Increased consumerization is crucial for today’s modern healthcare provider seeking to pioneer change in an ever-evolving industry,” contends IHC. A large factor in the future success of healthcare institutions will rely on their ability to use business intelligence tools to derive patterns and consumer trends. 

Although the data shows that overall increases in specific behaviors and attitudes associated with consumer engagement are small, transformation is happening. Currently, consumerism seems to be taking hold most strongly among patients with chronic conditions. “The increased involvement of these consumers in decisions about care, communication with providers, self-monitoring, and treatment adherence holds great promise for improving health outcomes and getting better value from care,” says Deloitte. 

The bottom line, according to the most recent analysis, is that providing personalized care and leveraging technology will be the critical factors for sustaining long-term growth for healthcare organizations. 

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at rellis@td.org. 

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