Welcome to the New Era of Healthcare: Consumerism

Some time ago, we authored a text focused on the evolution of consumerism in healthcare (Consumer Centric Healthcare: Opportunities and Challenges for Providers). In this series of blogs we will revisit some of the key topics covered in the book, with an updated viewpoint where possible. ~Authors: Colin Konschak and Lindsey Jarrell

From the dawn of time there has been a man and his doctor—a timeless relationship built from trust and necessity. This relationship was entirely intact from Hippocrates up until the rise of technology, where things took a sharp turn with the introduction of the World Wide Web and the power of mass distribution of knowledge. Websites like WebMD have made the everyday Internet surfer a diagnostic expert, much like Dr. Gregory House from the popular TV show “House.” Information regarding general medical advice, disease/condition information, diagnostic tools, and treatment options are entirely accessible via the Internet.

Because of the availability of these websites and mass distribution of information, patients are seeking doctors for treatment of their already self-diagnosed ailments, contradicting the traditional model of patients relying on the doctor to evaluate symptoms, use their education and training to make a diagnosis, and then prescribe a remedy.

Changes in the healthcare market and the role of patients as “consumers” are responsible for the age of healthcare consumerism.  Experts like Michael Porter, Ph.D. called it from the very start in his 2008 book Redefining Health Care. Dr. Porter identified six key areas where patients have taken control of their own healthcare:

  1. Patients managing their own health by making healthy lifestyle choices and preventative measures.
  2. Patients are able to, and insist upon, gathering their own information about their health and healthy outlook.
  3. Patients will make health choices based on perceived quality—going beyond personal convenience to see specialists rather than the corner pharmacist.
  4. Patients/consumers will make their own choices about health plans and coverage—plans that offer value-added benefits, are comprehensive, and are tailored to their health needs.
  5. Patients will pick a health plan and stick with it, rather than hopping around from plan to plan.
  6. Patients will take active roles in their lives and what happens to their own bodies during and after death, i.e. organ donations, end-of-life care, and living wills.

The Affordable Care Act’s Healthcare Marketplace and the increased push for EHR adoption are prime examples of patients playing the role of consumer. Healthcare’s new model is characterized by consumer demand for health services based on price, quality, and ease of access.  The patients have become the consumer, and the providers are now the businesses.

So what does this mean for providers? It’s simple, healthcare is no longer solely based on delivering services and healing patients.  Quality, or the measures of quality perceived by the patient, drive the success of the hospital/healthcare organization.  Patients/consumers hold the power and providers are having to market why their facility provides higher-quality, patient-centered services. Patients want quality, efficient service to meet their immediate demands: same-day appointments, access to medical records and wellness programs, among other tools that put the patient in control of their own health.

While the changes in healthcare to the “Era of Healthcare Consumerism” are unnerving for many physicians and clinicians who are being forced to change their traditional care model, the shift is very good for the patients.  Healthcare Consumerism means that patients are actively engaging in their own health, which is what doctors have wanted from the very start.  Today’s technology is making this easier than it has ever been, and the changes in healthcare and Health IT are only facilitating this change.

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