Power to the Patient: The Consumerization of Healthcare in the U.S.

Posted by Bethany Frank on 27 Jun 2018

Decades ago, it might have seemed unheard of for patients to seek medical care outside a hospital or an official medical clinic. As healthcare costs soar and patient payment responsibility increases, however, patients are more open to looking outside a traditional examination room for medical advice.

Despite all the debate about publicizing healthcare in the United States, the industry continues to become increasingly consumerized year after year. This refers to market trends and forces that impact both patients and traditional healthcare providers – companies like retail pharmacies and Amazon entering the healthcare market, for example.  

The Shift from Patient to Healthcare Consumer

Patients today are less willing to tolerate the delays and inefficiencies typically associated with healthcare. The more they pay for their own medical costs, the more they will expect from their healthcare providers. A frustrating patient experience can negatively impact a provider just as poor service can put a restaurant at risk of losing customers.

Services like walk-in clinics, urgent care centers, and digital-based healthcare are on the rise as healthcare costs soar and patients look for alternatives. There were over 10.5 million visits to over 1,800 retail clinics in 2015. Walk-in clinics and the like are popular because they offer faster service and an overall smoother patient experience.

These modern healthcare alternatives draw inspiration from other consumer-driven industries. Companies like Amazon, Uber, and Netflix became successful by offering consumers seamless, customer-centric digital experiences in industries that were riddled with inefficiencies. These companies noticed an opportunity to make things easier for consumers and capitalized on it.

Similarly, new players are looking to disrupt the healthcare market by offering patients more value and better service than traditional healthcare providers. For example, apps like Doctor on Demand and Pager connect patients with certified healthcare providers in minutes through the tap of a finger. Using these apps, patients can receive personalized, private, and on-demand medical advice from the comfort of their own homes.

How Can Providers Adapt?

Stiff competition means patients won’t have to compromise on their expectations, but it isn’t all doom and gloom. It’s important for providers to offer an experience that puts the patient first to remain competitive against new market forces. This includes digital self-service options, a seamless bill payment experience, and the ability to connect 24/7.

Digital Self-Service: It should be quick and easy for patients to view bills, make payments, and find answers to common questions online. In addition, more and more healthcare providers are offering online appointment scheduling, as well as appointment reminders via email and text messages. Empowering healthcare consumers with the ability to book, reschedule, cancel, and receive reminders about their appointments electronically can eliminate long wait times on the phone, reduce no-shows, and provide a more streamlined patient experience.   

Simple, Straightforward Bills: Healthcare bills can be confusing. Every patient has a unique health insurance situation, including its associated co-payments, deductibles, and co-insurance payments. Healthcare providers should provide easy-to-understand bills that clearly label outstanding patient responsibility versus payments already made, either by the patient or insurance.

Multichannel Payments: When it’s time to pay those bills, patients want flexibility and options. Providers can increase patient satisfaction and reduce the risk of bad debt by accepting a variety of payment methods (ACH, credit cards, debit cards, checks, and cash) and making it easy to pay through multiple channels.

The Bottom Line: Competition in healthcare is increasing as new players enter the market and patients demand more efficient service. This gives more power to the patient to choose a provider outside the traditional healthcare system. Healthcare providers can adapt by offering patients seamless digital service that puts their needs first.

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Bethany Frank Senior Marketing Associate Bethany specializes in content and events as part of Alacriti's marketing team. She's a graduate of Rutgers University and has a background in writing, broadcasting, and digital media. Fascinated by the intersection of technology and human nature, Bethany is out to explore what drives consumers in such a fast-paced, digitally connected world.

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