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Consumerism coming to healthcare: Opportunities and obstacles

Winning empowered consumers has become critical at a time when patients are demanding more in response to rising costs.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Healthcare organizations aren't making significant strides in adapting to consumerism, even despite increasing demand, competition for patient loyalty and plenty of lip service to the idea. 

That's true across the range of hospitals, payers and pharmaceutical companies, according to new research by branding and marketing consultancy specialist Prophet.

Along with identifying the problem, Prophet also outlined potential opportunities for improvement -- namely partnering with digital, bringing in external perspective and measuring what matters. It all comes down to treating consumers as participants in their own health and, increasingly, healthcare organizations' bottom lines now require meeting patients halfway. Or more.

"Consumer centricity," as the research calls it, is required to win in today's era of active consumers. Consolidating health systems and commoditized plans and medicines means greater consumer engagement is required so that consumers select their system, their plan and their drug. And funders of healthcare are demanding greater value of systems and drug manufacturers, requiring consumer centricity to get people to change their behavior and, in turn, drive down healthcare costs.

Winning that empowered, engaged, equipped and enabled consumer has become more critical at a time when healthcare consumers are demanding more from providers in response to rising costs; when consumers need to play a more active role in personal health management; and when startups are finding more agile ways to meet the needs of this increasingly educated and proactive group of people.

Analyzing the data and commentary for key themes, researchers uncovered five shifts that organizations must prioritize to reshape into more consumer-centric businesses: moving from tactical fixes to a holistic experience strategy; moving from fragmented care to connected ecosystems; moving from population-centric to person-centered; moving from incremental improvements to extensive innovation; and moving from insights as a department to a culture of consumer obsession.

Across the healthcare industry, researchers did not find a notable amount of progress on any of the five shifts. The most advancement appears to be on shift five, moving from insights as a function to a consumer-captivated culture.

Pharmaceutical companies reported the most progress moving toward consumer obsession -- or empathy for what's important in their customers' lives -- but still lag significantly when it comes to developing strategies spanning the whole healthcare journey, and expanding beyond purchase and administration of their products.

Payers have also made some progress on the consumer obsession front, using available data from wearable technology, claims and clinical forms to analyze and distribute data across the business. But this segment of the industry struggles with the challenge of fundamentally changing the relationship with consumers from transaction manager to personalized health partner.

Providers have made some advancements in translating data into insights. Where they struggle most is moving from tactical fixes within the confines of a doctor's office to a healthcare journey spanning periods of wellness and illness.

Among the research's other findings is that the industry is hesitant to partner with digital health companies. Fewer than 10 percent of all healthcare organizations say they are "most willing" to partner with digital companies. And only 21 percent of respondents believe that "practical and important innovation is coming from digital startups," compared to over 50 percent of respondents who believe this innovation is coming from providers and medical device companies. 

Yet such partnerships can enable traditional organizations to quickly gain exposure to innovative, agile and consumer-centric mindsets, the report said.

Twitter: @JELagasse
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