The systemic change in US healthcare delivery has been called many things, but they all refer to one thing: the future of healthcare will be in the hands of the consumers. Today, consumers are better able to make choices about their healthcare needs, because the majority of medical information formerly held by a select group of people is now available to anyone with internet access. People can research conditions, symptoms, treatment options, and best practice information before even calling a doctor. This enables patients to take an active rather than traditionally passive role in their personal healthcare.
As the roles continue to change, the future consumer-driven healthcare system will most likely see drastic changes in three main areas:
In a new dynamic of healthcare, the patient visit will increasingly be outcome-based. The traditional fee-for-service model incentivizes activity rather than outcome, which means that patient results are low priority. In order to improve outcomes in healthcare, the way doctors communicate with their patients needs to change. Studies consistently find that health outcomes improve when patients better understand their physician and are a part of the treatment/management process.
A systematic review of patient communication interventions in clinical trials revealed that principal outcomes (effects of the intervention on the process of the consultation) favored the intervention groups in 74% of cases, and positive health outcomes (a positive effect on any health outcome) were found in 80% of cases, significantly so in 44%. (Griffin et al. 2004).
The healthcare system will become increasingly reliant on technology to improve outcomes and cut costs while increasing coverage. The US government fully supports the move to technology-driven healthcare, and is subsidizing hospitals that make the switch to electronic health records (EHRs) for Medicare/Medicaid patients, while penalizing those who do not, beginning in 2015.
The growth of mobile health in the past few years has been exponential. Manhattan Research found that 62% of US physicians own a tablet in 2012, up from 31% in 2011, and 50% of tablet owning physicians have used their device at the point of care. Meanwhile, 90% of patients want to self-manage their healthcare leveraging technology (Accenture, 2012). As the goals and actions of the physician and patient align, technology can play a much greater role in reaching those goals.
Managed care reimbursement cuts are creating more industry competition for the patient’s dollar, which means physicians will have to start competing for those dollars. Up until now, the clinic visit hasn’t been based on much choice beyond location. Insurance dictates which doctors you can see, and whether the doctors are any good or priced fairly has been a total black box. All trends indicate that the current system will become a relic of the past. If patients are able to make a decision based off more than just insurance acceptance, they will likely choose the best doctor with the fairest price. Increasing demand for better price and quality can significantly improve the supply of hospitals and physicians who meet these criteria.
The consumerization of healthcare is just that – the consumers taking an active role in how healthcare delivery benefits them. The gears are shifting, and it is up to consumers to influence where they shift to.