Americans have known for at least 20 years that monolithic managed healthcare systems, even those established with good intentions, leave much to be desired. Larger health insurance companies cannot possibly be expected to drill down into every family’s specific healthcare needs. The inevitable result is that medical coverage can be spotty, inconsistent, and far more costly than many families can sustain.
Patients, for their part, have grown increasingly unwilling to accept one-size-fits-all healthcare packages. Our current healthcare consumerism trend is being fueled in large part by unfettered access to research-level medical information. The result is that patients are questioning and even talking back to doctors, nurses, insurance companies, pharmacists, and other healthcare providers.
As costs for managed care continue to soar, everyone loses. Businesses allocate an ever-larger slice of their revenue pie to employee healthcare. Insurers scramble to tweak packages that leave both employers and employees grumbling. Patients continue to encounter unpleasant financial surprises whenever they have a legitimate need to utilize healthcare.
Companies hoping to make a positive impact in a disgruntled market are paying greater attention to patient choice, as these four trends show.
1. Increased Options for Filling Prescriptions
There was a time not long ago when a visit to the family doctor might well have concluded with a written prescription. Patients were expected to deliver that piece of paper to their neighborhood pharmacy and pay whatever price the pharmacist said. While that model is still operational, patients have begun asking their doctors and pharmacists to offer more choices.
Patients now routinely ask for generic equivalents when they encounter high prices. They set up monthly delivery for prescriptions that address chronic health issues. After a teleconsult with a healthcare provider, they can order their birth control online. Patients are taking control by asking if they truly need name-brand medications and factoring in the time and money spent chasing an Rx.
2. A Growing Reluctance to Share Personal Data
Time was, anyone wearing a lab coat and a stethoscope could ask intensely personal questions and expect an immediate and unhesitating response. Now that most doctors use a keyboard instead of a pen, patients quite rightly wonder who else can read what’s being typed.
Data breaches haven’t helped. Whenever a new one is announced in the media, everyone runs through a mental checklist. They do their own personal diagnosis as to vulnerability, embarrassment, and even the potential for personal medical information being held for ransom.
The response of healthcare providers has generally trended toward setting up ironclad IT infrastructures. In this way, they hope to keep ahead of consumer protection legislation and take necessary steps to protect data.
Even so, patients are demonstrating an increased willingness to ask healthcare professionals if they really need to know the answer to specific questions. That’s especially true when they perceive them to be unrelated to a current medical issue.
3. HSAs, Reduced Coverage, and a Rising Focus on Fitness
When it comes to the desire to control how healthcare dollars are spent, health savings accounts are just the tip of the iceberg. Many businesses now offer numerous incentives for employees to make better decisions regarding how they manage their lifestyle, both on and off the clock. Savvy companies have caught on to the fact that it costs less to pay for an employee’s gym membership than their open-heart procedure.
Many employees, for their part, have begun surfing the incentives wave. A lifelong smoker, for example, might be far more motivated by an economic incentive to quit smoking than by some amorphous, far-off promise of health. Business leaders who leverage healthy trends to drive down healthcare costs and increase employee control over expenses find they have a healthier ROI as well.
4. Earning Patient Trust As Opposed to Demanding It
We used to assume that anyone who had the intelligence and determination to get through medical school was worthy of our trust and respect. That’s no longer necessarily the case.
Wider access to healthcare information and medical professional rating websites have introduced a hitherto unprecedented level of competition into healthcare. The result is that patients are far less likely to accept substandard performance across all aspects of a healthcare experience.
Patient care, quality of service, and bedside manner have become the criteria by which patients hold their doctors accountable. The family doctor only remains the family doctor with demonstrated excellence and courtesy over the long haul.
Patients who have unpleasant healthcare experiences of any type are far more likely to jump ship than in days gone by. The healthcare providers who accept this new reality will focus on excellence and make an ongoing commitment to continuous improvement.
Accommodation, Information, and a Healthy Bottom Line
The trend toward giving patients more authority to make medical decisions is only likely to accelerate. The internet’s democratization of healthcare information has both positives and negatives, yes, but it’s obviously pointless to resist. The genie is out of the bottle.
Patients no longer automatically take healthcare professionals at their word. Armed with a preliminary diagnosis, their next step is to verify what they’ve been told by doing their own research.
Companies open to placing increased decision-making power in the hands of patients are more apt to succeed than those that resist. Businesses that shift their primary focus from making sales to helping people make well-informed medical decisions represent the most promising new wave in healthcare. Their bottom line will take care of itself.