If it fits the bill: Driving empowerment through rising healthcare consumerism

By Kaitlyn Hyde on December 18th, 2014

Just drive by a shopping mall, or if you’re brave enough this time of year, step inside. With the holiday season upon us, it’s apparent one thing seems to be on everyone’s mind—shopping! Consumers cram the malls, eager to purchase the perfect present for their loved ones, family, friends and coworkers. They go from store to store, carefully evaluating products based on a range of factors – quality, style, functionality, and most importantly, price.

There’s also a new class of shoppers in today’s market, and they’re not looking for a new sweater for grandma; they’re shopping for their healthcare. These “healthcare price shoppers,” are price sensitive and beginning to evaluate their options, sometimes deciding less is more with their care. It’s essential for healthcare organizations to recognize the factors fueling these emerging trends, such as the prevalence of high-deductible health plans and rising patient financial responsibility.

The percentage of group health plan participants enrolled in high-deductible plans grew from 17.1 percent in 2008 to 36 percent by the first quarter of 2014. PwC reports more than one-quarter of employers (the highest percentage ever reported) had a high-deductible health plan as their highest enrolled medical plan this year. Outside of rising patient financial responsibility, other factors, such as patient engagement and greater access to healthcare information online, are key contributors.

Healthcare consumerism provides an opportunity for providers, organizations and vendors to pave the way for another trend: consumer empowerment and an increasing recognition of healthcare consumers’ capabilities to proactively participate in their care and make their own decisions on care and costs of that care. It’s no surprise this perception is shifting to healthcare where improved outcomes can be vitally important for someone’s overall health and financial wellbeing. 

To respond to rising consumerism, physicians in today’s market can consider these four tips:

  • Provide the right tools. In almost every other industry, consumers are empowered to evaluate their purchases based on industry reports and other available information. Consider Kelley Blue Book or home buyers guides, for example. Determine the tools patients will need to make informed decisions – on cost or treatments and care – and provide them.
  • Think patient engagement. Empower patients to take a greater role in their healthcare. Through patient engagement technologies, such as mobile apps and online tools, organizations can lead the way for consumers to participate in improving their own clinical outcomes.
  • Don’t forget about financial engagement. As the market evolves, clinical outcomes alone are not enough−you must also seek ways to engage patients financially. Price transparency is a goal we all should be working toward. After all, similar to purchases in any other industry, patients expect to be informed when it comes to healthcare costs.
  • Revaluate your patient collections processes. It is expected that out-of-pocket expenses for insured patients will rise from $250 billion in 2009 to $420 billion by 2015. To thrive, providers must refocus their attention from reimbursement dependence toward more effective patient payment capture. Several tools in the marketplace are designed to help organizations estimate patient costs and automate collections processes. 

As rising consumerism in healthcare continues, small changes can go a long way and make a big impact on patient care and responsibility. What strategies are you employing to drive consumer empowerment at your organization?

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