What Consumerization Means for Healthcare

August 22, 2019
Nicholas Hamm

A look at how consumerization is changing healthcare forever.

Between new regulations and shifting models, healthcare is constantly changing. Perhaps the greatest change currently facing healthcare-even in the face of the shift to value-based care, new transparency rules, EHR problems, and a host of other financial and technological changes-is consumerism.

As members are increasingly recognized as picky consumers, healthcare organizations are struggling to keep up with new demands and expectations. The only thing that’s clear, it seems, is that change is needed-and any organization that can’t keep up will be left behind.

Related article: Seven Tactics to Create a Lifetime Healthcare Consumer

To help clear it up, Managed Healthcare Executive (MHE) spoke with Niki Buchanan, general manager, population health, Philips, about the role of consumerization in healthcare-what it means for members, for healthcare organizations, and for the future of healthcare in America itself.

MHE: In your opinion, how is consumerization impacting healthcare?

Buchanan: It’s no secret that consumerism in healthcare is shaking up care delivery models. Gone are the days where a patient’s history with their health system is enough to keep them coming back-these non-traditional models of care have created a tug of car where convenience can trump one’s loyalty. With 88% of healthcare executives feeling vulnerable to this newfound competition, there’s an increasing realization across the industry that these consumer-centric care options are a force to be reckoned with. For an industry that is historically slow to adapt to change, healthcare organizations need to act quickly to maintain pace with this unexpected competition.

As household names, such as Amazon or CVS, increasingly venture into the everyday healthcare landscape, their disruption is forcing traditional healthcare to reexamine how we engage with patients-a reflection that is long overdue. Instead of viewing these consumer-friendly options as a threat to one’s patient base and fighting these winning digital strategies, health systems should instead seize the opportunity to change with the times and work to deliver care the way it always should be-in a convenient and customizable way.

While consumerization is a disrupting trend that may be perceived as negative by the masses, it’s also a much-needed propeller to move the industry where we need it to go. It is encouraging-once unimaginable-cross-industry collaboration between historically competitive players, and ultimately empowering patients to manage their own health no matter where they choose to receive care.

MHE:  What does consumerization mean for healthcare consumers?

Buchanan: Healthcare consumerism is forcing the industry to rethink the way patients enter the system and consider ways to administer care with specific out-of-hospital strategies. Health organizations need to hack into the element of convenience that today’s patients value and find avenues for collaboration with those who are doing so successfully, or else lose any remaining affinity. When it comes to maintaining a health condition, providers should encourage their patients to embrace these convenient options that don’t require them to travel far distances or take time off work, while still being an active stakeholder in their care journey.

There are many opportunities to outsource simple aspects of care to these consumer-facing options to uplevel our ability to be a “one-stop-shop.” For example, imagine a patient with a chronic condition who has had to make regular trips to their provider for checkups. Instead of forcing this patient to cope with the hassle of travel and inconvenient 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours of operation, that healthcare organization could partner with their local pharmacist or urgent care center, so the patient could more conveniently have a quick check-in once a month-whether it’s the weekend or evening hours.

By building a relationship with community partners, providers can then access the data from this visit, and reach out to the patient via phone or email to review the results. The patient is not only happier because they’re receiving care in a more convenient setting, but also because a professional who knows their health history has supported the care interaction with the pharmacy and given them peace of mind. The affinity is already being grown with these more consumer-friendly options, so providers would be wise to start outsourcing some of their patient care to these local partners, rather than view them as unwanted competition.

MHE: How can healthcare executives make that happen in their organizations?

Buchanan: Instead of maintaining the status quo with a traditional healthcare delivery model, the entire care continuum needs to adapt to meet the modern demands of a healthcare consumer, with an abundance of choices for how they receive care. Consider the following when revamping your digital and patient engagement strategies:  

  • Be open to unlikely partnerships: The pressure of consumerism will force historically opposing bodies to collaborate to develop appealing and convenient options for patients, and maintain market share over consumers. This could mean partnerships between competing health systems, payers and pharmacies. Each of these bodies has unique advantages to offer, but when siloed, they appear divisive to consumers who value a one-stop-shop. Tapping into the benefits of each, whether it’s a telehealth solution or an urgent care center, will only advance your patient engagement strategies and boost your ability to meet patients where they are.

  • Adopt a ‘loyalty program’ mentality: One of the biggest implications of consumerism in healthcare is the lack of loyalty being built between patients and their providers, as they’re drawn to more convenient ways to maintain their health. Just as a shopper will go to certain stores because of their loyalty rewards, this concept can be applied to healthcare. How can doctors encourage patients to attend yearly physicals, consistently fill prescriptions, or follow through with a referral? By adapting to an environment where small incentives, like rewards, can create loyalty, primary care providers can create relationships with their patients that aren’t just built on in-person visits, but rather touchpoints throughout the year.

MHE: How can healthcare organizations create lifelong members from younger generations?

Buchanan: Younger generations were raised in an online world-from streaming their favorite TV shows, to submitting college applications, to even their grocery shopping. But in 2019, many of them still can’t go online and make an appointment with their primary care physician (PCP) for a physical or a sick visit, or see the average wait time for the ER. When today’s consumer-centric options, such as a local pharmacy or urgent care center, do allow for this level of visibility and ease, a generation that grew up digitally will question the value of maintaining a relationship with their PCP.

Related article: Are Healthcare Organizations Keeping Up with Consumer Demands?

If younger generations can’t easily access a person who is supposed to care about their health and well-being, how can we expect them to build any affinity with their provider? As consumer brands in healthcare tap into this appeal and eliminate elements of inconvenience, health systems also need to make everything from making an appointment, to reminders, to follow-up, as easy and as streamlined as possible. A few potential approaches to do so include:

  • Tapping into ways to communicate other than phone or email, such as text reminders and updates

  • Partnering with urgent care centers that have more convenient hours and online scheduling

  • Adopting a telehealth solution to advance patient engagement in the planning, goal-setting and self-management of their care

  • Leveraging patient-generated health data via mobile apps or smart devices to enhance visibility into a patient’s wellbeing, without inconveniencing them with regular check-ins.