This post was written by Joy Liu, Director of Strategy at Jump Associates. You can get in touch with her directly by commenting on this post.
Trending healthcare discussions from the Affordable Care Act to digital health startups share a common mantra—that consumer health is the answer. However, as discussed during a conversation I facilitated around the Role of the Patient at TEDMED 2013, as much as patients are responsible for their own health, the system is currently not set up in a way where people are empowered to act like consumers.
Unlike most consumer scenarios, in healthcare we often have very little expertise and control in our purchasing. To transform the experience of healthcare, we need to examine the aspects of the current healthcare experience that hold people back from being truly empowered, and alter them in a way that they more closely imitate a traditional consumer experience.
Here are three strategies that businesses and organizations can use to disrupt the current healthcare experience to enable people to own their own care like a consumer:
1. Empower people with knowledge.
As a patient visiting a doctor today, we may be told to get some tests. We have no idea what they are or how much they’ll cost, but we still get them. The results come back, and the doctor spends less than a minute interpreting them for us. The doctor recommends a treatment. If we’re lucky, we’re given treatment options. Then, the doctor is out the door onto the next patient.
In this scenario, we have very little knowledge—about the tests, about our diagnosis, about the treatments, and about the costs. How can we be expected to make sound choices when we do not have the information to weigh benefits and risks, know if a price is fair, and compare the choices?
There are several organizations out there today empowering people with knowledge. Working with the Choosing Wisely initiative, Consumer Reports Health provides both patients and providers with information about treatment options and outcomes. To help people on the cost front, Clear Health Costs launched Price Check to crowd-source health cost data for the benefit of the public. In an industry with little transparency, knowledge is power.
2. Make subtle yet significant shifts in control.
We’re sick. We call the doctor’s office and the next available appointment is a couple days out smack in the middle of an important work meeting. We arrive at the office, and we’re asked to prepay. The doctor is late, so we wait 15 minutes. We get a little anxious. We spend only a brief amount of time with the doctor before they are out the door onto the next patient. Weeks later we receive a bill.
In this scenario, we have very little control. Our schedule is dependent on the doctor’s. We have to go see them. We have no idea what we’re paying until weeks later. How can we be expected to feel empowered when we have very little power over what is happening to us?
Doctor on Demand puts some control back into the hands of the consumer. This telemedicine service provides $40 appointments to anyone, 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week. Besides the clear cost and on-demand nature that puts consumers in control, telemedicine inherently allows people to choose “where” they see the doctor. Maybe they feel most comfortable sitting at their kitchen table—or maybe it’s on a cozy couch at home. By shifting some of the power in the provider-patient relationship, people may feel more comfortable asking questions, seeking knowledge, and acting like consumers.
3. Get personal.
We’ve been avoiding going to the doctor for years because we’re afraid of what they’ll tell us. Our family makes us go to the doctor for a preventative visit. The doctor tells us to exercise more, scolds us for our cholesterol or blood pressure, and scrutinizes our eating habits. We like the idea of being healthy, but to do everything just seems hard. Just thinking about it stresses us out and we eat some candy.
In this scenario, health is insular. We know high blood pressure is bad, but we don’t actually know what that will mean for us. We know we are bound to eat unhealthy sometimes, but we don’t know what foods will do us less harm. How can we expect to own our own care when there’s a disconnect between the suggestions we’re given and their actual implications in our lives?
Iora Health believes in empowering people to become active participants in their own wellbeing. As such, health coaches are a key player in Iora Health’s model for primary care. Every Iora patient gets a health coach who gets to know them as individuals, including their hopes, fears, and challenges. By getting to know the whole person, these coaches work together with their patients on care plans that meet their personal goals and needs. With context, suggestions about our health become actionable advice on how we can actually become healthier.
Treating patients like consumers doesn’t provide all the answers for improving healthcare, but the key tenets of the consumer experience—knowledge, control, and personalization—provide powerful signposts for disrupting the current healthcare experience. If we take lessons from the three strategies mentioned here, organizations can begin to create the better healthcare experience that we so desperately need today.
photo credit: Alex E. Proimos via photopin cc