Consumerism in Health Care

By September 21, 2017 Commentary

Consumerism is apparently the idea that empowered purchasers drive new expectations for product characteristics and service qualities in any industry, including health care.  Sounds like the same old marketing flim flam to me, trying to tell the consumer how important they are when the seller just wants to figure out how to get you to buy something, hopefully repeatedly and even if you don’t need it, and even better if they can get you to pay too much.   (Kaufman Hall Report)   Kaufman Hall has issued a very thorough and interesting report on consumerism in health care.  It is true that mobile phones and internet technology have created different expectations for many consumers about choice, convenience and price.  That has spilled over to health care for a segment of consumers, but they tend not to be the ones that have lots of health spending.  And health care provider organizations talk about consumerism but have a lack of action.  The report was based on surveys of over 125 hospitals and health systems.

Some specific insights from Kaufman include 1) a large gap between what providers say their priorities for patient experience are and their capabilities to deliver; 2) a disconnect between what providers see as their competitive differentiators and what consumers want; 3) a specific slowness to change access methods to the greater convenience consumers want, like more telehealth and walk-in appointments; 4) patient experience is not a real focus for most organizations and they don’t collect relevant data or have good analytics; and 5) price transparency is a particular problem.  Most providers also are behind the curve on use of digital and mobile technologies compared to other industries.  Here are a few specific patient complaints, which Kaufman finds the vast majority of providers have not really addressed:  inability to give realtime feedback to patients; poor directions in a facility; poor staff behaviors; confusing billing statements and long appointment wait times.  Doesn’t seem like it should be that hard to fix these problems, if you really want to.

And there is the real crux of the matter.  These large systems don’t really care.  Their strategy has been to horizontally and vertically integrate so patients have no where else to go and then the providers don’t really give a damn what your experience is.  Their attitude generally seems to be, take our lousy service and high prices or leave and see if you find any care anywhere else.  And that is not going to change as long as these systems have the market power they currently have.

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