Patient Power: The Consumerization of Healthcare

By Doug Williams
Mar. 14, 2019

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The healthcare industry is ailing. And unless it makes some big lifestyle changes, the prognosis is worrisome.

We’re witnessing huge transformations in many areas, such as outcome-based payment models, the use of machine learning, and blockchain technologies, but one of the most striking is the consumerization—or so-called “Uberfication”—of the industry.

As patients pay more of their own hard-earned cash for healthcare, they demand higher quality services, and are more willing to look elsewhere if those services aren’t delivered. They’re used to technology enabling their lives in useful and exciting ways, and they expect to see similar conveniences when dealing with a doctor or hospital. “Patients” are becoming “healthcare consumers.” The industry is used to focusing on payers and providers, but there’s a real need to shift attention to patients, prevention and outcomes.

Customer Service and Satisfaction

In the past, physicians bemoaned “la maladie du petit papier”—”the disease of the little paper”—when patients, often seen as neurotic, would attend a consultation armed with a written list of their symptoms.

How things have changed.

Today’s patients are empowered to research online before an appointment, some doctors even encourage it. There has been a seismic shift in the doctor/patient relationship; no longer are doctors seen as slightly scary, all-knowing and infallible, consumers now have the tools and desire to take some control of their own healthcare.

Adding momentum to this movement is the entry of well-funded disruptors into the marketplace—companies from non-healthcare backgrounds who are redefining patient interactions with physicians—longer appointment times when needed, same- or next-day scheduling of appointments (that start on time), wellness programs and preventative medicine—all accessed and managed through an app.

Taking convenience one step further, telehealth apps empower users to chat with a nurse 24/7, and if necessary video chat with a doctor, in many cases eliminating the need for an office visit. In some areas, a house call can even be scheduled.

Clearly, there is recognition that people are hungry for an upgraded healthcare experience. To paraphrase some well-worn but sage business advice: “look after your patients, or someone else will.”

Technology

Technology moves quickly in the life sciences. To sequence the first human genome, cost almost $3 billion and took 10 years. Now your entire personal genome can be analyzed from a saliva swab taken at home, costs $1000 and returns results in three to four months.

As medical technology continues to evolve alongside the opening of direct communication pathways between patients and providers, we’re seeing the beginning of some exciting innovations that will transform the ways that healthcare consumers interact with healthcare providers.

Wearable technology is already here in the form of the fitness trackers that both incentivize “good” behaviors through positive feedback and allow users to keep detailed records in order to see their progress over time. A great start, but there’s a lot more on the horizon.

There are already devices on the market that can track and record blood pressure, heart rate and rhythm, but these devices are used when a problem has already been diagnosed. In the near future, this data could be easily and cheaply captured by any patient and automatically monitored by physicians (or, more likely, an artificial intelligence system) to identify and treat problems before they become serious.

Another great advantage of mass adoption of wearable tracking technology will be the enormous aggregation of health data that will be available to scientists and researchers, enabling mass studies unlike anything ever seen before.

Medication adherence—taking the right medicine at the right time in the right dosage—is an enormous issue. According to The New York Times, nonadherence affects more people and costs the system more than any disease, and it’s 100 percent preventable. Up to one-third of prescriptions are never filled, and around fifty percent of medications treating chronic illness are not taken correctly. It’s a problem that affects an estimated 125,000 lives and costs up to $289 billion annually in the U.S.

There are solutions that can track adherence via packaging sensors (making the assumption that if the package is opened, the medication is being used). Going even further, the FDA has already approved a pill which itself contains a sensor, and in combination with a wearable patch which transmits to a smartphone, provides concrete evidence of adherence. We will surely see incredible advances in other areas ripe for improvement, such as blood-sugar monitoring, where adherence is as low as 60 percent among type 2 diabetics.

The Future

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. They, along with AI, augmented reality, blockchain, 3D printing, drone delivery and robotics (and other technologies yet to be imagined), will revolutionize the way citizens are cared for in the future—and how they will be empowered to take more action on behalf of their own health and wellness. They have the potential to curtail ballooning costs, enhance the customer experience, and improve the health of both patients and the system itself.

How are you shifting your attention to patients, prevention and outcomes – in light of the consumerization trend? Are you using technology to help do this? Let’s discuss.

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