In an age when you can order up fresh food and an oil change at the same time you’re browsing the latest bestsellers on Amazon.com, it’s no surprise that consumerism is also changing how we shop for and use health-care services.
Patients who would have sworn an allegiance to their family doctor are demonstrating via their behavior that they value being able to get the health care they want, at the time and place they deem to be “right.” They’re doing things like getting flu shots during a Target run. Comparison shopping contact lenses online late at night and buying a six-month supply to get the best price. And frequently, gathering information from their friends and social media connections about which health-care facility they should go to, and which physician or provider they should see.
According to an article in the Institute for Healthcare Consumerism magazine, “doctors and traditional medicine have become less relevant to consumers, as consumers become comfortable utilizing other providers to access services that are accessible, affordable and of high quality.” Those other providers may be online like 1800Contacts or a brick-and-mortar Minute Clinic located inside your neighborhood CVS store that has clinical affiliations with a number of the nation’s leading health systems. And because information and opinions are so readily available and widely shared today via the Internet and social media, those three factors – access, cost and quality – are being judged in a different arena. According to Pew Research Center, 67 percent of Americans now expect that they can find reliable information about health or medical conditions online; 30 years ago, the World Wide Web didn’t even exist.
While this trend doesn’t mean we’ll never step foot in a doctor’s office again, it is changing what a new generation of patients – let’s call them health-care consumers – expect the next time they show up for an appointment with their physician or go to a hospital or imaging center for a CT scan. According to research conducted by The Advisory Board, outpatient imaging services is an area prime for the effects of consumerism. Just like they would with any significant purchase, prospective patients are doing their homework. They’re comparing prices from providers. Talking to friends and family and colleagues. Gathering more data. What they’re finding is that there is often a huge variation between the price of having the same imaging procedure done at Center A, Center B or Center C. Subsequently, that information about cost and quality is influencing their decisions about where to access care.
It’s safe to say that as the Affordable Care Act continues to drive providers and payors away from fee-for-service and reframe the health-care conversation around value, family doctors won’t be replaced, but they will have to continue to evolve how they interact with patients and run their practices. As patients’ out-of-pocket costs rise, they are paying more attention to the numbers attached to the dollar signs, and they’ll continue to do so in the future.
Bottom line, as American health-care patients become more sophisticated consumers, providers and facilities throughout the care delivery system will need to continue to adapt in order to meet “right place, right time” expectations of access, as well as compare favorably with regard to affordability and quality.