The changing healthcare landscape has directly affected providers, hospitals and medical staff, but it also has had a profound effect on patients. The increase in patient responsibility for healthcare costs paired with the ease of sharing information via technology has created a patient population that is more aware, knowledgeable and concerned regarding the healthcare industry and their interaction with it.
This new player in the field of healthcare, now known as the “patient-consumer,” has become more informed and empowered in the past five years, prompting various studies, research initiatives and discussions. Deloitte Center for Health Solutions released a study in 2012 around this concept, defining the standard patient of the past as having the following characteristics:
Low level engagement, depending upon physicians to make decisions on their behalf
Low level awareness, depend upon physician opinion
High level of trust, based on personal experiences and word-of-mouth
The new patient-consumer, however, is painted a bit differently:
High level of engagement, depend upon physician recommendation augmented by own research to confirm or corroborate
High level of awareness, depend on information sources from online tools and social media
High level of trust, based on personal experiences and comparison shopping
Let’s examine the two significant contributors to the development of this new patient-consumer:
According to America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the out-of-pocket payments for insured patients roughly grew from “$250 billion in 2009 to $420 billion by 2015, a 68 percent increase in five years.” With patients now shouldering a significantly heavier financial burden when it comes to healthcare costs, their expectations in both the quality of care and overall treatment experience have increased as well. Dissatisfaction with either of these aspects will make paying the resulting medical bill that much more unappealing.
The technology-enabled sharing of information allows patients to search physicians, practices and even entire hospitals on review sites like Yelp, Angie’s List and ZocDoc. Using peers’ opinions and experiences to form their own is a trend relatively new to healthcare. With that being said, it is significantly affecting the way the population selects and maintains their healthcare providers: According to Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Survey, 80% of Americans above the age of 18 say that they research health information online, with 44% of Americans using the internet to find a medical provider. This has increased both the scope of medical knowledge the public has access to as well as the importance of medical professionals’ online “image.” The patient pool is better educated and better able to share their experiences with others, making it increasingly important to ensure the highest quality of patient care and experience with every encounter.
The previously-cited Deloitte study found that only one in three of the 4,000 surveyed consumers are satisfied with the performance of their health system. Please stay tuned for our next blog post, “Patient Empowerment: Part 2,” to find out how you and your practice or hospital can help improve that number.
 AHIP Center for Policy and Research, 2005-2011 HSA/HDHP Census Reports; June 2011 report, p. 2