No industry has been left untouched by the rise of the digital era. Our behaviors and motivations are guided by an appetite for more data, and understanding how individuals use data in their decision making is central to how organizations adapt to the rise in consumerism.
Some have pushed back on this idea of consumer-centricity as a necessary factor in healthcare. They argue that consumerism inappropriately shifts responsibility to the patient to control costs, that consumers do not always make choices consistent with their own best interests, and that there is undue pressure on healthcare providers to subjugate their clinical judgement in order to prioritize the notion that “the customer is always right.”
In truth, consumerism is about the “protection or promotion of the interests of consumers,” as defined in Oxford Dictionaries. It is about engaging and enabling individuals with the information they need to make informed decisions. Consumer-centric healthcare does not remove responsibility from policymakers to ensure costs are fairly regulated, and it should never mean the provision of services against clinical judgment.
Rather, consumerism in healthcare prioritizes the agency of the individual and empowers consumers by acknowledging the choices they need to make and supplying the information necessary to make those choices — not only when they are sick, but also when they are managing and maintaining their health.
To remain competitive in today’s landscape, health systems must adapt to consumers’ needs. These needs are rooted in individuals’ active management of their health and a recognition that multiple vectors inform their choices regarding where and with whom to receive care — vectors that increasingly are being influenced by factors like convenience and cost.
Understanding consumers’ healthcare journeys as the first step in engaging them
The vast majority of a consumer’s healthcare journey is not dictated by times of high acuity, meaning health systems need to own far more of that journey and engage consumers throughout the customer life cycle — including during times of wellness, lower-acuity illness and chronic disease management.
When consumers have the luxury of choice, which is far more often than not, competitive health systems should be able to provide the types of information consumers value and deliver that information in the myriad ways they might seek to access it. Such channels include digitally enabled research, mobile apps and call centers, as well as more traditional means such as print-based media, radio and billboards.
There already is a wealth of knowledge about the kinds of information that healthcare consumers value most. A recent survey of 1,000 healthcare consumers reinforced the importance of convenience-related factors in provider selection, with insurance accepted, appointment availability and location ranked extremely or very important by 75% or more of respondents.a Because there is a financial burden on patients when accessing care, transparency in cost also is a priority.
Clinical expertise and reputation of the health system/hospital also were among the top factors in provider selection, both surpassing 80%. Information on clinical expertise cannot be cursory — it is necessary not only at the provider, condition and procedure level, but also in terms of care sites.
Surfacing location-of-care options and the associated variety in provider type and delivery mechanism also is a key differentiator, with today’s consumers demonstrating a growing openness to receiving care at sites like retail clinics and urgent care centers, or even virtually, as they prioritize speed of access in many clinical circumstances.
Being able to surface providers’ competencies at a granular, clinically relevant level helps consumers better understand their options and be assured that the provider can address their unique clinical needs. However, with that as the baseline, surfacing information about providers at a personal level — their philosophies of care, photos and/or videos, the languages they speak — sets the stage for a deeper cultural connection and engagement between the consumer and clinician once the consumer becomes a customer.
The importance of presenting the big picture
Some may object to emphasizing the importance of “provider” data rather than physician-focused information, lamenting that such an approach minimizes the responsibilities and central role of physicians in treating patients. Although the importance of the physician should not be discounted, the most successful health systems have embraced consumerism at every point of the care experience.
That experience extends beyond a patient’s relationship with a physician in a single episodic encounter. It embraces all of the touch points with the organization — from finding the physician to the ease and timeliness of getting an appointment, the cleanliness of the facilities, and of course the courtesy, kindness and expertise of everyone the patient encountered throughout the care experience.
In acknowledging the broader team as providers of care, health systems place responsibility for the patient experience on all their employees. Such organizations foster a culture that charges all employees with the mission to put the consumer first and emphasizes the responsibility of all in contributing to the brand experience. Clinical outcomes and physician excellence are the keystone, but the consumer experience will encompass far more than that.
Ultimately, these investments in the consumer experience reflect a commitment to the humanity and highly personal nature of medicine as it is received by patients and delivered by providers.