• Alan Shoebridge

Hot takes: Three alternative perspectives on healthcare consumerism



Let me start off by saying that I strongly believe in making healthcare more accessible, affordable and understandable for those we serve. Offering an experience that is more consumer-oriented is part of an approach that would help accomplish those goals. The problem is that many of us inside the bubble – healthcare marketers especially – tend to overlook some significant problems.

  • People simply just don’t shop for healthcare like they would for almost any other consumer product. Healthcare is largely an “avoid it until you need it” product. No healthy person spends time on his or her phone every day looking at neurologist profiles in case they need one in the future.

  • Healthcare pricing is too difficult to understand, exacerbating the problem above.

  • Insurance plans serve as a middleman between consumers and the products they buy.

  • High deductible insurance plans are hurting, not helping consumerism in healthcare. People aren't becoming savvy shoppers, they are simply putting off care.

  • Technology is making improvements, but the pace of real change – things truly felt and understood by consumers – is slow. Just two months ago, I had to request a proof of a vaccination through a labyrinth of phone, fax and snail mail communications!

I don’t bring up these issues to stop the quest for a better consumer experience in healthcare. Again, I’m fully supportive of that direction. However, I think we need to acknowledge, understand and work to remove the barriers in place. We also need to respect the behavior we actually see consumers and patients displaying, instead of engaging in wishful thinking.

In depth: Three articles that explain the challenges

'Consumer' Approach Doesn't Work in Healthcare, Some Say

Excerpt:

“Studies have shown that even when price comparisons are available, patients don't embrace the tools. For example, as reported previously, a study published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that only 1% to 12% of patients who were offered Web-based or app-based transparency tools used them, and even fewer used them before they received care.

Patients also aren't motivated to shop around because they don't believe the benefits trickle down to them … in the auto industry, for instance, demand for certain models and dutiful research lead to savvy consumers and lower prices.”

Study: High-deductible health plans aren't making members better healthcare consumers

Excerpt:

“A pair of studies published in the latest issue of Health Affairs dug into the behaviors of people enrolled in HDHPs and found that while the plans are intended to incentivize patients to shop around for care, they more often led patients to put off care.

In one of the studies, researchers at the University of Michigan surveyed more than 1,600 members in HDHPs and found that fewer than half (about 40%) were saving for future healthcare costs. Other behaviors were even less common: just a quarter of those surveyed had spoken with a doctor about price, and about 14% had compared prices.”

Death By 1,000 Clicks: Where Electronic Health Records Went Wrong

Excerpt:

“Electronic health records were supposed to do a lot: make medicine safer, bring higher-quality care, empower patients, and yes, even save money. Boosters heralded an age when researchers could harness the big data within to reveal the most effective treatments for disease and sharply reduce medical errors. Patients, in turn, would have truly portable health records, being able to share their medical histories in a flash with doctors and hospitals anywhere in the country — essential when life-and-death decisions are being made in the ER.

But 10 years after President Barack Obama signed a law to accelerate the digitization of medical records — with the federal government, so far, sinking $36 billion into the effort — America has little to show for its investment.”


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