The Rise of Consumerism in Healthcare
For centuries, doctors have had a commanding role in healthcare delivery. The entry of the modern health insurance industry forced doctors to mind their service delivery costs and operate by the access rules created by health insurers through negotiated network contracts between insurers and doctors. The result of this system has been a neglect of consumers’ say and a limitation of their choices in their own health management, until now.
Two macro elements have helped usher in a new era in which the consumer’s voice is more respected than ever before in the healthcare industry. First, the healthcare industry has recognized painfully that past ways of doing business would only lead to one of two disastrous outcomes: the healthcare system would run quickly out of money, or patients would have to sacrifice health for cost savings in the short term, leading to even more costly accumulated health problems down the road. Either outcome would result in bankrupting the health system. The consensus is that the economic model behind current healthcare delivery is broken because it rewards doctors and hospitals based on service volume, not quality. To fix it, the new economic model must incent doctors to offer preventive care: taking actions well before a minor lifestyle issue blossoms into a cancerous cell, a clotted artery, or malfunctioned metabolism. To provide effective preventive care, doctors must motivate consumers to change their bad habits. Consequently, doctors’ roles are no longer limited to diagnosis and treatment; increasingly, doctors offer advice and encouragement. This role expansion does not undermine doctors’ authority or reduce respect earned from their patients, but it does require doctors and their staff to be aware of consumers’ needs and challenges and to respect their choices and preferences.
The second element in this new era of healthcare is the advancement of information technology that closes the knowledge gap between a trained health professional and an ordinary consumer. The famous quote from Francis Bacon that “Knowledge is power” has indeed resonated throughout the healthcare industry during the last fifteen years. Patients are now called healthcare consumers or customers because, with the right information, they ask more detailed questions about their health problems, request doctors to check on new drugs or therapies, prefer means of treatment that are more convenient or less costly, or in certain situations, walk away from an established doctor-patient relationship if their demands are not met. This power shift has received a boost from government regulations. In a bid to raise quality standards, the government now includes patient satisfaction as part of quality measurement standards, further fueling the need to respect patients’ voices before, during, and after any type of healthcare encounter.
The rise of consumerism in healthcare is not only a U.S. phenomenon, but a global one. The economic reasons to push for care delivery, finance reforms, and empowered patients benefiting from the advances in information technology are fundamentally the same across developed and developing countries. The severity of the healthcare financing situation and the market structure and relationships among doctors, insurers, and healthcare consumers varies by country, so the pace of change differs regionally. The U.S. healthcare market, being the largest, most complex, and most in need of reform, is now a prime example of health consumerism in action.
Signs of rising consumerism in the U.S. healthcare market are evident in Parks Associates’ consumer surveys:
Senior Director of Research
Harry Wang oversees Parks Associates’ mobility and apps research, which covers mobile/wearable devices and services, apps and APIs, and mobile commerce/marketing, payment, and connected car industries. He is also the founder and lead analyst of Parks Associates’ digital health research program since its inception in 2006. He and his team cover emerging health technologies, applications, and services in areas such as chronic/preventive care, independent living, wellness and fitness, and virtual/convenience care.
Harry has published more than 40 industry reports and white papers and presented his mobility and digital health research at numerous industry events including CES, Mobile World Congress, CTIA, Open Mobile Summit, World Health Congress, the American Telemedicine Association Annual Trade Show, and Parks Associates’ CONNECTIONS™ and Connected Health Summit conferences.
Harry earned his MS degree in marketing research from the University of Texas at Arlington. He also holds an MBA degree in finance from Texas Christian University and a BA degree in international business from Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, P.R. China.
Industry Expertise: Digital Health Products and Services, Portable and Mobile Access Platforms and Applications, Digital Imaging Products and Services