If there’s one dialogue that’s been growing louder across the healthcare landscape, it’s the consumerization of healthcare. Market trends are undeniably steering the healthcare experience into a new paradigm where patients are seizing control. Yet this new direction is not always beneficial for patients or providers.
Just as consumer-driven industries like Uber and Netflix offer quick and seamless digital transactions, many patients want greater convenience and speed from care delivery. Many are also seeking more cost-effective options, thanks to climbing medical debt and high-deductible insurance plans. They’re less willing to tolerate care delays and inefficiencies; many will leave a poor online review after a frustrating appointment.
These are all understandable goals and reactions. But as patients climb into the driver’s seat of healthcare, they’re not always given a roadmap to their intended destination. As they navigate their options, some are running up against four dynamics:
1. Dr. Google
In our fast-paced world, many patients don’t want to wait weeks for an appointment or take time off from work to bring their child to the pediatrician. Instead they take out their smartphone and look up symptoms to get a quick and theoretical diagnosis. Patients can view photographs of lesions, read checklists of cancer symptoms and lurk on forums where people describe surgery experiences – and encourage each other to self-diagnose.
Result: Patients may diagnose themselves inaccurately and adopt folk treatments that don’t work, while their real condition goes untreated.
2. Retail Clinics
Retail clinics like CVS and Walgreens have exploded in popularity – and the market is expected to surpass $8 billion USD by 2028. Patients who feel they’re too busy or too peripatetic to maintain a consistent PCP relationship often prefer the extended hours and easy access of these clinics.
Result: While these clinics can offer fast service, too many one-off visits can mean the patient doesn’t see a consistent provider who understands their medical history.
3. Cost Avoidance
Patients are paying higher and higher coinsurances, deductibles and copays – and they’re sick of it. They’re annoyed by a hospital’s inability to give them an accurate procedure cost in advance; many are stuck with “surprise” invoices after checking into a network hospital and receiving care from an out-of-network doctor.
Result: People are avoiding care. A JP Morgan Chase Institute study indicated that consumers increase their out-of-pocket healthcare spending by 60 percent the week after getting a tax refund. This suggests that financial reasons are causing people to delay – or just skip – important medical care.
4. Application Chaos
As applications and portals take over the Internet, many healthcare systems have turned a great idea into patient confusion. Even patients with moderate care needs may find themselves managing an overwhelming collection of healthcare apps for their OB/GYN practice, dentist, dermatologist, PCP, various hospital online payment portals, lab result repositories and data from their wearables.
Result: Instead of collecting and sharing their own medical data appropriately, many patients can’t keep track of what has become a convoluted collection of technologies. Providers assume their patients have the right information at their fingertips, while their patients have too much app fatigue to create yet another password and learn another platform. Valuable data sits in silos instead of being translated into insights.
Connecting Patient Expectations to Provider Expertise
Virtual care delivery can solve many of these challenges while still offering patients their choice of healthcare options. Instead of choosing between Internet advice, a stranger at a pharmacy or a long wait time for an office appointment, patients can simply video conference with their doctor who knows their history. They don’t have to sacrifice wages, pay for childcare or transportation, or fear a high emergency room bill. Their providers can also collaborate directly with each other to establish a 360-degree view of their healthcare needs.
Perhaps the biggest telemedicine benefit of all is patient enthusiasm. 92 percent of Millennial and Gen Z patients want virtual care capabilities from providers. It’s clear that doctors must offer telemedicine services to stay competitive if patient preferences continue to shape healthcare delivery – and it’s a safe bet they will.