How Healthcare Should Think About Consumerism

Three Ways to Drive Real Transformation

There’s a lot of buzz around consumerism in healthcare, often focusing on how patients are now “shopping around” for the best providers and services — consuming health in the way they consume any other product. But healthcare consumerism has a much broader definition and impact. In this article, I highlight the specific benefits of healthcare consumerism and discuss the role health systems can play in supporting this shift in how patients consume healthcare.

Historically, healthcare has been reactive — patients reacting to problems with their health, and healthcare providers reacting to patients bringing these problems to their attention. There was a negative connotation with seeing the doctor — it meant there was something wrong. That is starting to change; patients are now being more proactive about their health. Providers are putting a greater focus on preventative care mechanisms, engaging with patients before problems arise. Instead of avoiding healthcare, patients are starting to pursue proactive and preventative healthcare.

With this in mind, “Consumerism in Healthcare” can be thought of as “proactive patient ownership”. In other words, the consumers of health (patients) are wanting to take greater ownership of their own health and their healthcare decisions.

Patients are becoming actively engaged — which is wonderful for many reasons, but this shift from reactive to proactive is still in its infancy. We still have a long way to go, and health systems play a critical role in this transformation. It should be noted that there are several political and economic forces that have an impact on this transition (i.e.: healthcare insurance, reimbursement incentives, healthcare policy). This aside, there are 3 high-impact ways that health systems can and should help patients become active owners of their care.

1. Drive proactive outreach in the right place, at the right time

Health systems have an incredible amount of data at their fingertips - they know when patients last came to see them; they know when it’s time for a patient to come in for preventative care like vaccinations, annual wellness visits, or health screenings. Health systems should use that information to aid the well-being of their patients. Instead of being passive partners in care, healthcare providers should be proactive drivers of care. Health systems should leverage digital channels to communicate with their patients to provide personalized and targeted information about how to better care for themselves. Health systems should help patients take ownership of their care and give them relevant information to make good decisions about their health. As the experts and trusted sources of information, health systems should feel a deep responsibility to keep their patients informed. Most health systems are now providing patient portals, collecting email addresses, and documenting mobile phone numbers. These are all ideal channels for patient outreach. As a health system, don’t wait for your patients to come to you, find methods that encourage them to take ownership of their well-being.

2. Provide trustworthy information

Taking data a step further, health systems should take a strong stance in sharing and providing information about common (or even uncommon) health topics. With the availability of the internet and the widespread sharing of misinformation, health systems need to be the source of truth for health-related topics. It’s becoming increasingly common for patients to browse the internet for a topic before they schedule an appointment or even visit a health system’s website. Health systems should strive to own the information that consumers are reading. With this in mind, they can provide the most accurate information with meaningful recommendations for actions and even give consumers a quick link to help schedule a visit or contact a provider when appropriate. The pandemic has served to be an extreme example of WHY this is so critical. As a health system, you are increasingly expected to make accurate information easily accessible to your community via every channel available: your website, your social pages, your emails, your portals.

3. Make access to care easier

One of the greatest barriers to healthcare is how difficult it can be to navigate the process of finding an appointment with a provider. Resource constraints aside, there are several things health systems can do to improve access. The goal should be to make it easy for the consumer and to reduce friction for getting appointments scheduled. Allowing patients to select and schedule appointments from an online scheduling platform or patient portal can be the best way to go about this, but often presents numerous technical challenges. Another method is to allow for scheduling requests via multiple digital channels. This way, patients can indicate interest any time of day via the mechanism best suited to them. It is best practice to allow patients to select when and how they would like to hear back from you and to stick to that timing and channel of communication. The last way and most critical point of access for patients is your scheduling department or front desk team. As a health system, you should pay special attention to this group — ensure they have the right tools, resourcing, and authority to schedule appointments with as few restrictions as possible. Reduce the need for handoffs, supervisor intervention, or callbacks. Patients can quickly learn if your health system is easy or difficult to make an appointment with, and word of mouth can be very helpful or hurtful.

To sum up the above, patients are taking a greater stake in their health. Healthcare providers should be cheerleaders, supporters, and catalysts of this change. Putting healthcare ownership in the hands of the patient will only improve their health and produce better health outcomes. Politics and policy aside, health systems can be more proactive and intentional in their outreach to patients, be the source of truth for health information, and make it easier for patients to get care. When the goal is to provide great care for our patients, it is essential that we help patients care for themselves. That is how we bring care full circle.