Achieving A Patient-Centric Model of Healthcare ‘Consumerism’

The following is a guest blog post by George Mathew, DXC Technology Healthcare and Life Sciences chief medical officer, North America with contributuion from Rikin Patel, DXC Technology chief technology officer, Americas, and Paul Thompson, DXC Technology Commercial Healthcare Payer general manager.

Much has been said about the rise of consumerism in healthcare and improving the patient experience. But what does consumerism in healthcare look like, and why is it important now?

Healthcare consumerism advocates for patients’ active involvement in their own care and in care-based decisions. It transforms the doctor-patient relationship, moving toward a working partnership in which patients are given choices, offered suggestions rather than instructions, and supported in achieving healthcare outcomes. These ideas are picking up steam and, as Aetna’s recent “Inaugural Health Ambitions Study” describes, emerging health delivery models are providing increasing opportunities “for patients and physicians to collaborate.”

New movements have sprung up in response to the concept of healthcare consumerism, such as participatory medicine, promoted by the Society for Participatory Medicine, a nonprofit organization committed to the principles of moving networked patients from being “passengers” in their care to being full partners. Innovative companies are creating new business models to engage patient groups directly. Examples include Savvy Cooperative, which considers itself the “®” for patient insights, and WEGO Health, which connects healthcare organizations with “Patient Leaders” to enable the patient experience to be incorporated into the design, development and promotion of health products and services.

As these nontraditional players enter healthcare, they bring to the industry their data analytics capabilities and experience with ways of gleaning true customer insights. With strong balance sheets, leading-edge technology and years of experience in the consumer space, these new entrants to the market are establishing partnerships, and hiring and acquiring the resources they need to succeed in the healthcare field.

Adapting consumerism to healthcare

However, learning from other consumer industries doesn’t mean mimicking them. Taking a customer-centric approach to healthcare must go beyond acquiring and analyzing reams of data — it must extend to creating targeted segmented approaches and “engaging” health consumers (or patients) with digital content. Patients — particularly high-need, at-risk patients with chronic conditions — require an entirely different type of consumerism. They require care that anticipates and delivers their needs, and that prioritizes the best clinical and financial outcomes for that individual.

This key difference begins to get at the heart of what true healthcare consumerism will evolve to become: patients as partners in their healthcare and are not targeted simply as customers.

For example, by including patients and their families in surveys or inviting them to serve as representatives on advisory councils and committees, physicians and other healthcare providers can develop an infrastructure that supports partnership and continued feedback from the family or customer perspective.

Earning consumer trust in healthcare

Additionally, data is the vital component for all “healthcare consumer” interactions. However, like consumers across all industries, patients often have concerns about how their private data will be used and protected. To reach a level of consumerism capable of competing against digital companies entering the health space, payers must bridge the trust gap to obtain access to patient data through proper consent, and to ensure that the quality of the data can be verified.

Payers can address this challenge is by partnering with providers who have close relationships with physicians. Patients have traditionally shared private, confidential information with their physicians because they know it will help with their care. This sacred, trusted relationship should serve as the model for healthcare consumerism. It should be the blueprint for implementing technology, prioritizing tools that enable physicians to educate patients on how to improve outcomes, while incorporating industrial strength cybersecurity to protect the information patients share and uphold the sacred trust they have in the doctor-patient relationship. Payers must ensure that their ultimate goal is to strengthen that relationship.

Digital platforms and programs that enable physicians and other providers to collaborate with patients, gather data and help them assess their health and financial considerations will move the industry toward a model of healthcare consumerism that works for all stakeholders — payers, physicians, providers and patients. In this new healthcare environment, healthcare organizations must have the digital capabilities to take data collected through claims, electronic health records (EHRs), wearable devices and unstructured data (such as social media), and then perform robust analytics on this information and make it accessible and actionable for patients — all while adhering to privacy standards and regulations. Healthcare organizations will also need to modernize workflows and processes, so they can provide timely actionable responses and a good patient user experience.

Final thoughts

Providing patients with new digital tools is only the first step in creating a consumer-centric health environment. It’s equally essential to earn patients’ trust by being transparent with them about how their data may be collected and used to improve desired health outcomes. In this context, patients can become valuable partners with their physicians and other providers, and, together, create a truly patient-centered model of healthcare consumerism.