The subject of the “consumerization of healthcare” has been around for many years. Most frequently people use this phrase in association with personal technology devices (heart-monitors, exercise accessories, sleep monitors, etc) that allow consumers to take direct control of their health information. There is however, a more important trend that relates alternatively to the consumerization of the “business” of healthcare. While other industries often speak of being “customer centric” or “putting the customer first,” the U.S. healthcare system rarely thinks of the patient as a customer. One could go even farther, and suggest that the U.S. healthcare market is the least customer centric of any customer service industry.
David Goldhill, in his enlightening book Catastrophic Care, declared:
“…a guiding principle of any reform should be to put the consumer, not the insurer or the government, at the center of the system. I believe if the government took on the goal of better supporting consumers-by bringing greater transparency and competition to the health-care industry, and by directly subsidizing those who can’t afford care-we’d find that consumers could buy much more of their care directly than we might initially think, and that over time we’d see better care and better service, at lower cost, as a result.”
David makes a powerful assertion — allowing the patient to rise to the forefront and to be truly be seen as a customer — will lead to not only more satisfied patients, but patients with better medical results and much lower costs. This would be a remarkable three-way victory. The good news is we are already headed down this path. The combination of new technologies, data availability, information transparency, shifts in insurance coverage, regulatory reform, and consumer frustration has set the stage for a new era of healthcare service in the U.S. where the patient truly comes first. This powerful trend will gain momentum as it builds, will reshape the current landscape, and will result in the launch of many new and exciting companies.
One overt sign of a lack of traditional market forces is any industry where basic customer service is not a requirement to stay in business. If you asked 100 people to name a place where you frequently wait, even when you are on time for your appointment, how many would say the doctor’s office? The consumer has come to accept waiting at the doctor. We are so numb to the pain, that we rarely object or complain, and the doctor’s indifference to the consumer’s time is so common and widespread, that it is a frequent meme in jokes and cartoons.
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Other U.S. industries, once subject to far less competition, have been forced by the market