Is Health Care Consumerization the Best Move for the Industry?
One thing seems clear in this era under the Affordable Care Act: consumers want more control over their health care service and options. With an increasing number of hospitals and insurers beginning to give patients more of the transparency and autonomy they desire, many industry experts have begun to believe that this health care consumerism is a trend that’s here to stay — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
At the most basic level, healthcare consumerism means putting the end user in charge with a higher level of accountability. Just as the proliferation of connective devices — laptops, tablets, smartphone — has offered American consumers more buying power, this easy access to the internet has also served to empower patients and policy holders. As the Internet has opened the floodgates on information, so people are able to research a condition, read content about lifestyle choices and even investigate a physician before making an appointment. Today’s health care consumer is more aware and better able to make choices about his or her health needs.
With more Americans heading online to do homework before scheduling a procedure, choosing a physician, or opting into an insurance plan, all it takes is one negative comment on social media to turn scores of consumers away from your business.
But it isn’t just information age technology that’s powering this trend toward consumerism. Reform has been giving health care consumers more command over their care experience.
As patient satisfaction metrics and continuum of care are becoming key components of the health care process, consumerization has provided hospitals and insurers with ways to acquire new patients/members, promote loyalty, and inspire behavioral changes that improve health outcomes.
Let’s Start with the Bad News.
Overall, consumerization is a positive change, but there are some risks that come from delegating more responsibility to the consumer. When critical health decisions are left up to individual patients, there is always concern that these consumers may not have the understanding to make informed decisions about their care.
Patients may, for example, engage in unhealthy behaviors or decide to opt out of medically-necessary tests when left to their own devices.
The goal of consumerization, however, is to change the relationship between a patient and a health care provider in order to improve outcomes, promoting transparency and open communication. Responsible consumerization is also a two-way street — the patient must be accountable both financially and for his or her actions.
The Right Way to Empower Health Care Consumers
According to a study conducted by Wolters Kluwer Health, of the 1,000 consumers surveyed, about 80% report more positive feelings about their health care experience when given more autonomy.
Now, with reform shifting the industry toward outcomes-based payments over traditional fee-for-service, patient (consumer) engagement is critical for hospitals, too. A patient’s health outcome improves when they are knowledgeable about their treatment or management plan — but this can only work if health care experts are able to activate the patient, motivating healthy behaviors.
Because not all healthcare consumers share the same behaviors or are motivated by the same things, a “one-size-fits-all” approach to education will have only limited success. Through targeted education and healthcare marketing, patients gain access to more information and learn about products designed just for their circumstances, positioned in a way that resonates with them.
Targeting solely based on demographics or health conditions, however, only gets you part of the answer.
For example, three healthcare consumers may share similar demographic profiles and may each be managing a specific health problem like diabetes, taking prescription medication and trying to maintain a healthy diet. If you rely on traditional segmentation methods, you may target all three consumers with the same educational or marketing messages, reasoning that they are very similar diabetic patients.
But these consumers are very different people with unique motivations, goals, influences and lives:
- One patient may be motivated by a need for control, taking a proactive approach to treatment and willing to invest the time and money necessary to get and stay healthy.
- Another patient may be held back by fear or denial and need directive care from a trusted authority. This patient is reactive, “fixing the situation when it breaks,” and not inclined to engage in preventative approaches.
- The third patient may primarily be driven by a sense of duty to family, neglecting personal health needs unless it interferes with his or her ability to provide for loved ones.
All the capital and systems invested to support the consumerization of your healthcare business will mean little if you can’t get the patient to choose healthy behaviors. Your communications must reach consumers by tapping into their hardwired motivations — personality, values and lifestyle. By segmenting your patients into groups based on these factors, providers are able to create assets that will influence each patient’s health behaviors.