One of the biggest opportunities and challenges in healthcare right now is the emergence of healthcare consumerism. It’s long been talked about, but now healthcare consumerism is here and policymakers, healthcare payers, health IT developers, and other medical professionals need to adapt to a world where consumerism and health meet — where the patient is also a consumer.
Forbes reported that data released from healthcare experience analytics company Press Ganey showed the ascendance of consumer shopping behavior and how it’s important to healthcare providers. According to the study, consumers are increasingly shopping online for their healthcare services. Over half of the consumers use the internet to choose a primary care provider. Consumers noted that they were over twice as likely to use digital sources to find a primary care physician than a doctor’s referral.
The concept of healthcare consumerism recognizes how patients play a role as not only the purchasers but also the managers of their health. This shift has now become an integral part of our healthcare landscape. As we enter this new era of consumerism, it’s important to understand the concept of consumerism, what it means for providers, the pros and cons, and the challenges and opportunities that consumerism brings in healthcare.
What is Healthcare Consumerism?
As the healthcare industry shifted towards value-based care, the term “healthcare consumerism” suddenly became noteworthy. While it’s not the first time in history the term has been used, today, healthcare consumerism refers to the personal choice and responsibility in managing and paying for one’s health.
Patients — particularly with the emergence of high-deductible health plans and value-based care, quickly became one of the primary payers, and are also the primary driver of wellness.
Patients have increasingly become responsible for a large portion of their medical costs. With higher deductibles, patient financial responsibility continues to increase, and many patients have struggled with their financial responsibility for care. This has resulted in an essential part of healthcare consumerism – the patient experience.
As patients increasingly pay their healthcare costs out-of-pocket, they have started to look for healthcare experiences that mirror those found in other service areas. Healthcare consumers now want healthcare experiences that are as easy as those they find in e-commerce, airline, or hospitality industries. As a result, the healthcare industry has had to adjust.
What Does Healthcare Consumerism Mean for Providers?
As providers realize that patients have increased financial responsibility, they’ve recognized that creating a good consumer experience is critical. Already, many provider groups have started implementing technologies that improve the patient experience as they shop for healthcare and interact with their systems.
For example, healthcare consumers/patients appreciate price transparency, which allows them to see the costs before they receive the care and treatment. In the past couple of years, more providers have worked to adopt consumer-centric tools, such as patient navigation tools, online appointment scheduling, payment plans, and call center technologies.
However, healthcare providers still have a long way to go to become as experienced as the airline, e-commerce, and hotel industries. Some of the key healthcare consumerism concepts that providers must consider include access, affordability, and patient experience.
Convenient access to care like virtual care offerings and retail health clinics can help. Low-cost care options and price transparency tools make care more affordable as patients take on more financial responsibility. Consumer experience, measuring it, and figuring out how to improve it are critical to adapt to the era of consumerism.
The Pros and Cons of Patient Consumerism
With patient consumerism grabbing hold in the healthcare industry, more and more decision-making and purchasing power are not in the hands of providers. While the healthcare consumerism trend offers a variety of benefits, it also presents some challenges for providers.
The Pros of Patient Consumerism:
- Adopting New Technology – As consumers demand more convenient interactions with providers, providers continue to invest in new technology that offers more convenient patient experiences. These solutions include appointment management, financial tools, electronic intake, telemedicine, online preregistration, and more. When providers adopt these tools, it often improves patient engagement, boosts patient experiences, and improves overall practice operations.
Related – Patient Engagement Whitepaper
- Reduced Time on Intake – When patients have the ability to manage personal health information, providers and their staff gain back valuable time. This lets them focus on patient experience and growing the business, spending more time on the essential task of caring for patients.
- Improved Patient Outcomes – More informed patients allow providers to offer better care. Healthcare consumerism has been key in helping patients and providers develop more collaborative relationships, which results in better patient outcomes.
The Cons/Challenges of Patient Consumerism:
- Reduced Quality of Patient-Physician Communications – Physicians have time constraints when seeing patients, there may not be enough time to resolve misconceptions held by patients.
- Negative Feelings Among Physicians – Increased consumerism may make physicians feel as though they’ve lost respect for their position.
- Difficulty Retaining Patients – If patients feel their experiences haven’t been optimized, providers may have difficulty retaining patients.
- Some Patients Aren’t Ready – While economically stable and younger patients are more likely to use technology to access care and interact with healthcare providers, those with financial difficulties or older patients may have a harder time adopting the consumerism mindset. Providers must remember that they’re likely dealing with both demographics within their practice.
The Bottom Line
It’s obvious the era of healthcare consumerism is here, and here to stay. A few of the current trends observed in inpatient consumerism include:
- Consumers favor convenience and provider rapport instead of brand loyalty
- Patient deferment rates keep rising, and delaying care can have multiple repercussions (i.e., serious outcomes for patients and threats to hospital revenue streams)
- Telehealth adoption has tripled
- Providers and patients remain disconnected over wearable tech and other digital innovations
While healthcare consumerism has become cemented in the industry, the healthcare industry is now following in the footsteps of hospitality and e-commerce industries, where it’s possible to research, book, and pay for a hotel completely online.
However, the healthcare industry is still far behind when it comes to core digital infrastructure, and what looms ahead for providers is finding ways to catch up with other industries to improve the healthcare digital infrastructure to meet growing consumer demands.