The Driving forces of Healthcare Consumerism
Healthcare Consumerism is a movement in which patients are more involved in their healthcare decision making. Healthcare consumerism has been driven by digital technologies such as the internet which encourage health information empowerment. This trend in healthcare has presented a variety of changes in the healthcare field.
The one thing experts seem to agree upon is the fact that consumerism in healthcare is being driven by economic forces. According to Hone (2007), economic factors have been a primary driver for healthcare consumerism. The availability of information from the internet provides a means for consumers to combat high costs for services by shopping as well as becoming more informed. This same concept is echoed by Winan and Kasubski (2011) who discuss the changing market in terms of disintermediation.
Healthcare services in some ways have been disintermediated because of the internet due to the fact that consumers can now avoid costly visits to a primary physician in order to be referred to specialists.
Patients, armed with information obtained through direct-to-consumer marketing, the Internet, and telemedicine, no longer are automatically following the referral recommendations of their health care providers. Insurers, complementary and alternative practitioners, the press, television, and other health care providers will continue to contribute to disintermediation in the rush to influence patients’ decisions about their health care (Winan & Kasubski, 2011).
A third driver of consumerism is the increased mobility of society. People move and live in many more geographic locations than in the past (Winan & Kasubski, 2011). This means that individuals are far less likely to remain loyal to a particular physician throughout their lives.
However, consumerism is not without its negative consequences. Economic factors such as the rising cost of healthcare continue to plague the healthcare consumer. Despite having large amounts of information and better decision making capability the cost of healthcare continues to rise. This presents a situation that highlights the fact that consumerism is not having an impact on pricing or competitiveness. This fact shows how inelastic the pricing in healthcare is today as it continues to rise significantly in comparison to the demand. This situation means that healthcare consumerism is not saving consumers substantial sums of money in the long term.
Disintermediation also presents significant challenges to the healthcare consumer. The fact that the removal of the intermediary such as the general or primary care physician saves consumers some money and time, also creates the challenge of having to wade through tremendous amounts of information in order to make proper healthcare decisions. This means that consumers receive pressure and influence from many different sources including: “Insurers, complementary and alternative practitioners, the press, television, and other health care providers” (Winan & Kasubski, 2011).
Society's increased mobility also creates challenges for healthcare consumers. While this factor forces providers to allow greater access to services it also means that physicians are less likely to feel compelled to remain in one geographic vicinity. In basic terms, a lack of loyalty to providers translates into a lack of loyalty to patients.
There are other impacts resulting from consumerism such as its impact on healthcare leadership and marketing. Healthcare has already begun becoming consumer oriented in which healthcare leaders such as Aetna and United Healthcare must create plans and services which reflect the consumer involvement. Most large companies already have forms of telemedicine established and create healthcare plans that take into account the lack of a referral system.
Look at the bold moves from Pitney-Bowes a few years back. The company used financial incentives to encourage employees to use their asthma and diabetes drugs, and their overall cost of care declined. Pitney-Bowes paid more for the medicine and saved money in the end. Here was an early example of putting more power in the hands of the patient.
Across the nation, dozens of companies have begun to use the ideas surrounding Healthcare Consumerism in similar ways and have achieved good results. The era of managed care and its orientation to minimizing cost outlays and rationing care has gone bust. In its place come more innovative strategic solutions with greater emphasis on patient outcomes. Consumer-driven health plans are the opening strategy in this health care consumerism approach (Hone, 2007).
Despite healthcare companies molding their practices and plans to the consumer, the trend of rising cost continues to impact the consumer creating negative outcomes for both provider and consumer. As a result of the ever increasing cost of healthcare, consumerism becomes entangled in unhealthy and bad practices. According to Winan and Kasubski (2011):
Once patients determined the service valuable enough to undergo an evaluation, they were very proactive about modifying the plan of care to include content and frequency that was in line with the perceived value and their personal budgets. On the other hand, some patients simply chose not to come in for therapy services at all despite the recommendations of their physicians.
Winan and Kasubski (2011) seem to take a negative view of consumerism while other experts such as Frank Hone (2007) seem to view this trend more positively. While there are both advantages and disadvantages to consumerism, Winan and Kasubski seem to have a more practical view which is in line with the current reality of healthcare cost and service. The reality of healthcare consumerism is that it is short-term benefit of cost savings made possible by the internet. This consumerism has not proven itself to be a significant cost cutting model of healthcare. As well, consumerism presents significant challenges to healthcare information and marketing.
The disintermediation of healthcare providers leaves a tremendous issue of trying to gain healthcare consumers without the benefit of a provider network. This means that healthcare providers will need to rely on many marketing tools outside their competencies. For example, providers (large and small) will need to rely on web content and internet as a primary driver for the healthcare business. This may be counterproductive for consumers because their drive to gain new business through these channels may mean increased cost of web design and content creation.
Healthcare consumerism is altering the landscape of healthcare marketing and delivery but the reliance on the internet as an information provider and decision-making tool is also having a reverse impact of driving costs up as providers continue to vie for consumers. Currently, this situation seems to be escalating but it may be coming to an end as the government becomes more involved in healthcare. Healthcare reform may remove many of the drivers of consumerism.
Hone, F. (2007). New strategies for progressive organizations. Market forces and the new focus on demand-driven health care. Employee Benefit News, 21(1), 12.
Winan, R., & Kasubski, D. (2011). What’s the attraction? Finding out why patients come to you. PT in Motion, 3(7), 16–22.
Vincent Triola. Fri, Mar 05, 2021. What is Healthcare Consumerism? Retrieved from https://vincenttriola.com/blogs/ten-years-of-academic-writing/what-is-healthcare-consumerism