Healthcare “consumers” are here to stay: Here’s how to help them succeed

 

The consumer isn’t a new player in the healthcare game. “Consumer” is just a new name given to the patient who, due to changes in how much and how we pay for healthcare, has been given the task of applying consumer principles when obtaining healthcare services.

Not everybody’s used to it yet. It’s a fairly new role for both patients and doctors to get used to, many of whom were not brought up in a system in which people “shop” for healthcare. And, according to a Forbes article, people have mixed reactions to these identities: Some people consider themselves patients, some consumers, and some both at the same time.

Regardless, the consumer role within healthcare is here to stay and, if done right, can empower individuals to get more value out of their healthcare dollars—that is, the right services, at the right places, and at fair prices.

When wondering why some patients aren’t eagerly jumping on the consumerism bandwagon, it’s important to keep in mind that there are many qualities of the healthcare system that make it difficult to be a consumer in the traditional sense. One of them: Unplanned instances of medical care strip away a key element of consumerism—choice. When you’re shopping for a costly purchase, like a new car or an expensive flight, you have many choices to consider: when to buy, where to buy from, and convenience-level in information available to make your purchase.

The healthcare industry needs a way to empower patients to become confident consumers, even in the “heat of the moment,” when they must use a healthcare service they have not been able to plan for.

The technology is getting there. Imagine receiving an unexpected cancer diagnosis. In the shock and aftermath of the news, while you’re trying to make sense of and arrange treatment options, you get a nudge to use a free expert medical opinion service to provide more information as you choose your course of action. Or imagine heading to the ER in a moment of urgency, and upon checking in, getting a text message informing you that there’s an urgent care clinic nearby that can not only treat your condition, but will be considerably more affordable. This kind of information, delivered right when people need it, give patients more power to choose what services to use and where.

With more communications designed around the “right place, right time” maxim, we can deliver information that empowers patients to be effective consumers, giving them more choice and control around their healthcare decisions.