Healthcare Consumerism in 2018: What Works, What Needs Revamped, and Everything In-Between

Saturday, November 16, 2019

McKinsey, a management consulting firm headquartered in New York City, published its 2017 Consumer Health Insights (CHI) Survey. In summary, the results of that survey show that consumers want more from the healthcare industry. McKinsey pinpointed four main areas of concern that consumers take into consideration when choosing a healthcare plan -- affordability, continuity, digital, and engagement. Why are these areas of concern? How can the healthcare industry improve these areas? We’ll answer those questions and more in this article:

  • Defining Healthcare Consumerism 
  • What Needs to Change?
  • The Uncertain Future of Healthcare Consumerism

Defining Healthcare Consumerism

To understand how the healthcare industry can improve, you first need to fully understand what exactly healthcare consumerism is. According to 75 percent of consumers, healthcare decisions are both the most expensive and the most important decisions they need to make. However, people often are so overwhelmed by all of the information and choices that they don’t know if they’re making the best decision for themselves.


In order to make the best decisions, people want more information from healthcare providers, and that’s what healthcare consumerism is trying to achieve. The overall goal is to have patients be more proactive in the decision-making process. Patients, the consumers of the healthcare industry, now want to make better, more informed choices when deciding on their healthcare plans. As with many ideas, this one is easy to talk about and harder to put into action.


shopping cart with pills and doctor equipment
Shopping for healthcare requires that consumers conduct a lot of research and take into careful consideration the type of healthcare plan best for them. Image courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.


For one, the process of shopping for healthcare is not at all like, for example, car shopping. When looking for a new car, people often visit multiple dealerships and test drive cars of various brands and sizes. They compare the prices and the quality of the cars they are considering and narrow their list down to which car best meets their needs.


Shopping for healthcare is not the same. In fact, people often want to just be taken care of without having to do the heavy lifting. At the same time, there isn’t the satisfaction of purchase. When you buy a car, you can customize and personalize it, and you get to use it pretty much every day of the week. The same cannot be said for health insurance. 

What Needs to Change?

As stated in the introduction, McKinsey’s 2017 survey pinpoints four main areas that need to improve, which are: affordability, continuity, digital, and engagement.

Affordability

Affordability is perhaps the biggest concern consumers have when it comes to healthcare plans. Almost three-quarters -- 72 percent -- of survey respondents said they were concerned about the cost of healthcare.


stethoscope with chord in shape of money sign
How can healthcare become more affordable for patients? Image courtesy of Center on Budget and Priority Policies.


With the cost of healthcare a primary concern for practically every person, many people wonder: why exactly is healthcare so expensive? Within the last twenty years alone, healthcare and hospital services have increased by almost 225 percent. The bottom line is that the cost of healthcare needs to become more affordable in the next few years.

Continuity

In 2011, when McKinsey surveyors first asked respondents if they have a primary care provider, the percentage that did was 87 percent. When they were asked again six years later, the percentage of people who have primary care providers is 79 percent. Finding out that not as many people have primary care providers is concerning, to say the least. 


Perhaps the decrease of people who have primary care providers can be attributed to the more recent growth of walk-in/retail clinics. More than 80 percent of survey respondents would not mind receiving care at a retail clinic instead of at a regular physician’s office.

Digital

In this continuously evolving technological age, more and more people are relying on telehealth, which, simplified, is the combination of technology and healthcare. Nearly 9 out of 10 survey respondents -- 89 percent -- know about digital appointment reminders, and 55 percent of those respondents said they have used them in the past. Having over half of respondents using digital reminders in healthcare at least once shows promise for the increase the use of technology in the healthcare industry.


When presented with the choice, many people preferred the digital solutions over solutions that required them to use the phone or talk to a professional in-person. A problem with the digital aspect of healthcare is that consumers would all be required to have technology capable of accessing resources and materials. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford that kind of technology, which just presents another problem. 

Engagement

The healthcare industry needs to engage more with consumers if the latter hopes to become smarter shoppers. Consumers want to look over more of their options and figure out more solutions, but they sometimes believe they are unable to do so. This just reinforces the need for increased engagement between the healthcare industry and its consumers.


McKinsey’s survey identified three ways that healthcare providers could collaborate with consumers in order to make things better, which are:

  1. Improved Education 
  2. Improved Navigation
  3. Better Incentives

Convenience

There is another aspect of healthcare consumerism that needs to change that wasn’t mentioned in McKinsey’s survey, which is convenience. Today, convenience is the number one factor a consumer takes into consideration when choosing their care. People want what they want when they want it, and they are exercising their right to choose more frequently. 


This is why retail/walk-in clinics are now so popular -- people can choose when they visit them instead of trying to coordinate schedules and make appointments. Telehealth also plays a key role in this desire for convenience, as patients can have virtual appointments instead of having to go to a doctor’s office.

The Uncertain Future of Healthcare Consumerism

Evidently, the healthcare industry needs to make some major changes starting now. If consumers are demanding more information from potential providers, the latter needs to be able to supply that information. 


health symbols with stethoscope on top of book
If consumers don’t know why their healthcare costs as much as it does, they might not understand the full extent of their care. Ultimately, better education is needed so that consumers can make better decisions. Image courtesy of Public Health.


When respondents of the McKinsey survey were asked which organizations healthcare industry should strive to replicate, they said well-known tech companies, like Amazon, Apple, Google, and even Chick-Fil-A. The last one might be the most shocking, but consumers aren’t alone in saying that healthcare can learn a thing or two from the restaurant industry. 


In fact, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital named Dr. Atul Gawande wrote an article for The New Yorker about how the healthcare industry can learn from The Cheesecake Factory. Among other things, Gawande praises the restaurant for how the affordability of the food doesn’t negatively impact taste, how the kitchen is laid out in a logical manner, and how service is fast and efficient. Despite the large differences between the restaurant industry and the healthcare industry, there are helpful tips each can give to each other.


What exactly is the healthcare industry doing to improve healthcare consumerism? Well, that’s debatable. Some people say that healthcare isn’t doing enough to adapt, while others believe that progress is being made. One suggestion is using a data analytics company like Innovu to identify issues that can be potential opportunities for solutions.



In the end, what remains true is that consumers are both constant and ever-changing. They want the best healthcare, which requires them to make informed decisions, so they are flexible in how they can receive care. The future of healthcare ultimately depends on its willingness to meet its consumers’ needs.


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