A lot is being written and discussed about Healthcare Consumerism. With the likes of Apple, Amazon, Walmart, Google, and others entering the healthcare market, the sparks of discussion are becoming a bonfire. And that spells difficulty for an industry that moves as deliberately as healthcare.
With good reason, changes to the healthcare industry happen slowly. Doctors are typically cautious when it comes to changing anything that would impact patient care. I’m glad for that but it may not last long. Big companies with big dollars are moving in to push the pace. It would be wise for administrators and doctors to pay attention to what’s coming and prepare to meet the challenges, and maybe, to get out in front of them.
Knowing what healthcare consumerism is and what it means for your practice is a good place to start. Here’s a quick definition.
Healthcare consumerism is the drive to deliver a more retail-like experience for the patient.
This drive, for the most part, is being created by patient expectations. And those expectations are being created in part by ‘disruptor’ companies that tell us we can have more. Much of the push for a better experience is marketing spin to get us to buy something. But some of it is a retooling of age-old processes that truly need to change.
In this age of patient consumerism, your job as a doctor or healthcare administrator is to examine what’s relevant for your patients and, as much as is possible, provide it for them. Knowing that people want more convenience for scheduling, shorter wait times, better in-office experience, up-front cost information, easy billing, and dedicated follow up; your staff should be constantly scouring the landscape to determine how you can improve.
The doctors I know are not satisfied to deliver lackluster care. In fact, I’m confident that most doctors are rigorous about their knowledge of their specialities. They stay informed about the latest and greatest procedures, equipment, medicines, and other options that will improve the quality of life for their patients. If the staff isn’t doing the same on the business side, the practice will fall behind and competitive practices will poach your patients.
Getting up to speed with patient expectations doesn't mean your practice needs to serve Hors d'Oeuvres on silver platters with sparkling water and fine chocolate. It simply means to pay attention to what makes a retail experience enjoyable and try to duplicate that enjoyment in a medical setting.
I’ll give you a personal example as a consumer of healthcare. I have health insurance through Kaiser Permanente so the bulk of my healthcare is provided by their in-network doctors and dentists. I pay an exorbitant amount of money for the insurance every month, BUT I get treated very well. Maybe my experience is unique but it doesn’t seem too difficult to me to find a way to duplicate it at some level.
This year I have been to my primary care doctor and my dentist (several times). My wife has been to her primary care doc and a couple of specialists. My kids have been to their primary care doctor several times. And to top it all off, last year one of the kids had spinal surgery to correct a 54% curve. So we have had a great many opportunities to experience the medical and the business side of our providers.
I’m happy to say that without exception, every office, every staff member, and every experience went beyond our expectations. In every case wait times were short, waiting areas were nice places to be, staff was courteous and professional, questions were answered, cost estimates were given prior to treatment (in every case!), follow up was copious (almost excessive), the billing was expected, and payment plans were offered.
Beyond this, every office has a list of comfort items on offer. Their waiting room furniture is comfortable and modern. They have coffee shops in their larger facilities. I could go on. Many will read this and immediately start making excuses. We can’t do this or that for whatever reason. Ok, I understand financial challenges. I understand the time crunch we are all under. I understand the energy change takes.
But I do not understand and I hope you and I will never accept an, ‘I don’t care’ about those things attitude. I hope we will not pass ‘consumerism’ off as a fad and an excuse to do nothing. We should care about making our practice the best possible place for people to be. We should strive to deliver the best possible experience our budgets will allow. I believe that patients will feel better, be happier, when they are met with excellence.
I’ll end with this. If you, your staff, or your doctors don’t enjoy being in the space you’re in, with the people around you: How do you expect your patients to enjoy it? Whatever incremental ideas you can put forward to turn your practice around, to make it more ‘consumer friendly’, to create an excellent patient experience: I challenge you to do it.
People who care enough to read posts like this are the ones who care enough to push changes that help others. I hope you will take it upon yourself to start.