The Rise of the Health Care Consumer

Rise of the healthcare consumer

Last week, I attended the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado. This year’s theme was “Smart Solutions to the World’s Toughest Challenges.” The health care track covered topics such as Ebola, cancer, dying with dignity and personalized medicine. I was inspired by the innovative thinking that this festival represents—especially as it relates to the patient.

The health care industry is on the cusp of a dramatic transformation, and one of the biggest drivers of this change is the patient—or should I say the health care consumer. People want more convenience, accessible information, and a higher quality of service.Spending an hour in a waiting room for a scheduled appointment or having to take off work for a doctor’s appointment because your doctor’s office only provides services from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. is no longer acceptable. And consumers are voicing that opinion loud and clear. Just look at the rise of retail-based health clinics, which are operated by large drugstore chains such as Walgreens, CVS Health and Wal-Mart to treat common ailments like ear infections, strep throat and pink eye.

The number of retail clinics increased almost 900 percent between 2006 and 2014, from 200 to 1,800, according to a study released by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Manatt Health in April 2015. In addition, the number of retail clinic visits increased from roughly 1.5 million to 10.5 million in 2012. Convenience was the No. 1 reason that families chose to use a retail clinic—58.6 percent cited the hours were more convenient, 55.9 percent cited that there was no need to make an appointment and 48.1 percent cited that the location was more convenient, the study found.

Aside from convenience and accessibility, people also want high-quality health care that is affordable. Health care is no longer a service that is paid for by someone else. Employers have been shifting more financial responsibility to employees for years in order to reduce spending on health care benefits.Eighteen percent of U.S. employers have already implemented high-deductible health plans, and 44 percent are considering it, according to a February 2015 report by Deloitte.

Now that people have more money at risk, they are demanding health care services that provide value. For some that may mean having online access to their children’s medical records. For others it may mean transparency including a hospital or physician’s quality and safety ratings. And others may want the ability to communicate with physicians by e-mail. The bottom line is patients’ expectations of health care services have changed. Businesses like Zappos and Amazon have altered how people shop and what level of service they expect. Those expectations are now being directed at the health care industry. The challenge for providers is to develop and implement a consumer experience strategy that meets consumer expectations, which vary from patient to patient.

In the future, those expectations may include wearable devices and apps that can report data such as real-time vital signs and medication adherence or check for an ear infection and communicate that information directly to your physician. As discussed during the Aspen Ideas Festival, these types of technologies can not only help engage patients in their health care, but also improve health outcomes for populations of patients by focusing on prevention. But are health care providers ready for the “do-it-yourself” health care consumer? Not yet. There is still a lot of heavy lifting to be done around health information technology, privacy and reimbursement.