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What’s on the Horizon for Healthcare Consumerism?

Healthcare experts weigh in on where the medical industry is going next to support healthcare consumerism.

The future of healthcare consumerism will be defined by an investment in the digital, with organizations increasingly recognizing the importance of having an online presence and health IT that support patient care journeys.

Long heralded as the future of the medical industry, healthcare consumerism has now grown into more than just a buzzword. The time is ripe for healthcare organizations to implement solutions that help meet the demands of healthcare consumerism, meeting patients where they are and helping patients to engage as stakeholders in their own health.

Below, PatientEngagementHIT outline how key industry stakeholders see the future of healthcare consumerism and the way health IT investments will support that vision.

The patient care journey will begin online

In a trend seen across the past few years, healthcare professionals can expect to see the patient care access process increasingly begin online. Just as consumers access Amazon or travel sites from their smartphones and laptops, they are looking to find a doctor and book an appointment using the same digital modalities.

And to adapt to that change, organizations will need to ramp up their online presence.

“Patient experience starts when the patient steps to his or her computer and Googles something about their symptom they're investigating, or something about the doctors or institutions they're thinking of going to,” Thomas Lee, MD, the CMO at Press Ganey and a primary care doctor in Boston, said in an April 2021 interview.

“We used to think the patient experience began when they walked in the door, or maybe when they called to make an appointment, but now it's when they start surfing the net.”

Per December figures from Press Ganey, patients will visit on average three websites before booking an appointment, so it’s important for organizations to provide plenty of information online and in multiple places. Making sure online provider reviews, office information, and patient access tools are updated will be key to getting that discerning healthcare consumer through the door.

Unlocking the digital front door will drive consumer engagement

As patients have continued to embrace their role as consumers, they have been demanding to interact with their providers differently than before. Although not universal, the push for patient engagement technology and a digital front door is a response to the rise of healthcare consumerism.

“There's also the long-term rise of consumerism that has already been taking place,” Mutaz Shegewi, IDC Health Insights research director, noted in a June 2021 interview. “The expectations of individuals and healthcare have been higher and increasing over time, based on experiences in day-to-day life and in other industries.”

“When you shop on Amazon, there's a certain expectation you have around kind of the convenience of being able to select your product and the delivery time,” he offered as an example. “When you get a ride through Uber or Lyft, similarly there is an expectation of convenience.”

Healthcare organizations have a number of technologies at their disposal that could comprise a digital front door. These technologies span patient access tools like online provider search and appointment scheduling all the way to telehealth and online bill pay. The key to sustainably building out that digital front door—something most organizations can’t do all at once—is convening organizational stakeholders and designating priority investment areas.

“There needs to be an initiative to first, map and outline of all the existing digital touchpoints in the service and to identify any gaps,” Shegewi recommended.

This needs to be extremely patient-centric. Understanding patient and consumer needs will help organizations better understand where they currently are in the journey toward opening the digital front door.

“It's going to be very hard for provider organizations, especially nowadays, to do everything at once,” Shegewi cautioned. “They might prioritize the front end, if there's nothing there already.”

Health IT interoperability will be key to patient data use

At the end of the day, meeting healthcare consumers where they are is about more than just patient acquisition and marketing; it is about outcomes. After all, consumers aren’t just shopping for their healthcare. Once they walk through the clinic doors, patients are interacting with and managing their own health, and organizations need to support them in that.

For years, healthcare technologies have cropped up to aid in patient self-management, but those tools still aren’t entirely actionable for providers who want to support their patients in getting better clinical outcomes, according to Chris Zant, chief digital officer for ConvergeHEALTH by Deloitte.

“Everything else in my personal ecosystem is getting easier,” Zant said in a 2021 interview. “My fitness tracking app tells me exactly how many calories I can eat today because I took a note this morning when I rode my bike,” he offered as an example.

That fitness tracking app is a key instance of health IT meeting healthcare consumerism, but the industry can’t take the next step until that information also becomes available to the provider.

“Where can we create opportunities for incremental data to be shared back with healthcare providers, but in a way that enables them to change the experience for the patient?” Zant posited.

“And that honestly is the sticky piece right now,” he conceded. “How do we best share it without overwhelming either of the participants in that exchange to provide for the patient?”

Standards like FHIR are making that health IT interoperability piece more plausible, but the second half of that equation is building an ecosystem in which patients feel comfortable with that level of data exchange.

“You'll find that patients are happy to share the medical data if they feel it's protected and they're getting something of value in return,” Zant remarked.

Amazon and other consumer-facing companies are great at that. They have a very clear and obvious value proposition that makes the consumer know they will get something in return for the information the consumer shares.

Healthcare can do that, too, by describing the way in which a data-driven landscape will help improve the patient experience.

“Can you give me direct access to communicate with my provider?” Zant offered as an example of a health IT value proposition. “Can you help me schedule appointments without having to sit on the phone for 20 minutes and push through a set of button menu options? Can you enable me to share symptoms with my healthcare provider so that when I do go in for an appointment, I don't have to come in with a piece of paper or try to remember what my symptoms have been over the past month?”

It's a long road ahead to forge that deep consumer trust, health data exchange, and health IT ecosystem that will ultimately support healthcare consumerism. But as industry experts continue to identify these concrete priorities, will be essential for stakeholders to collaborate to bring them into reality.

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