The patient is a consumer. As out-of-pocket healthcare costs continue to increase, patients are doing more research when they search for a healthcare provider.
To understand the role of consumerism in healthcare, we spoke to Preston Gee, vice president, strategic marketing at CHRISTUS Health.
He says that while it’s important for a hospital to be focused on the patient, it’s the consumer, the individual who is not a patient yet, that is the person who is still making the decision as to whether or not he or she is going to access a healthcare organization’s services.
“We should really be thinking in advance about their entry into our system, and I just don’t think we’ve had that mindset so much,” Gee says about the healthcare industry.
What strategies can healthcare organizations implement to make sure their brand is trustworthy and that their brand reputation is positive for the consumer?
“First of all, you really need to deliver on the brand promise,” Gee says. “If you say you’re high quality and patient focused – and all these kind of things – you better make sure you deliver when people access the system and they’re tapping into your services.”
How do you deliver on the promise? According to Gee, you’ve got to make sure your associates and employees are engaged, especially physicians, nurses and frontline staff.
Gee says it’s not because of fancy equipment, new facilities, or the latest technology that patients will walk through your doors, but rather the quality of the patient experience.
“It’s not rocket science but sometimes we overlook that significance of what we call the soft skills, which are those patient to clinician interaction,” Gee says.
“Our research shows that is what matters most to people when they’re selecting a facility.”
“If you have caring, compassionate, coordinated, attentive, clinical staff, then that word gets out and that’s really what drives people’s interest.”
In addition to having an engaged staff, organizations need to make sure they are keeping patients informed.
“People want information,” Gee says.
The reason healthcare organizations tend to close off information is because of past practices or regulatory issues, but that needs to change.
“We need to make sure we’re communicating with people not only while they are in our setting and in our system and experiencing our services but also after the fact in terms of keeping them updated and keeping them informed of relevant services and things they can do to better take care of their own health,” Gee says.
Why is Consumerism on the Rise?
Healthcare has increasingly gone in the direction of empowerment and development toward consumerism for years, Gee says. This is because of three major driving forces: The Internet, an increase of economic responsibility on the consumer, and the rise of new competition.
It’s obvious. The Internet is one of the reasons healthcare is becoming more consumer focused. The Internet provides consumers with access to information in seconds. Websites like ZocDoc and online review sites are some of the sources consumers go to to find healthcare-related information.
“With the rise of the Internet, and the availability of information, consumers can know as much about their condition as the physicians or the clinicians that they’re seeing. So that’s a big part of it.”
Consumers now have had to take the weight of more financial responsibility in healthcare through increased copays, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs.
“So I think they’ve taken a more active involvement in healthcare as they again have had to shoulder a higher degree or level of financial responsibility for it.”
Rise of New Competition
There’s new competition in the healthcare industry from retailed-based companies such as CVS, Walmart, ZocDoc, and organizations that understand consumers.
“Organizations that get consumers are now very much embedded in this space,” Gee says.
The Future of Healthcare
Gee doesn’t see consumerism going away anytime soon.
“I think it will get more focused and more prominent and more pronounced because people are going to be paying more out of their own pocket, Gee says. “That trend is not going away.”