Healthcare consumerism, a movement designed to refine the efficiency and affordability of healthcare services, is working to change how people prioritize their personal healthcare. Imagine a system where savvy patients use their knowledge to take a more active role in purchasing and utilizing healthcare services. Healthcare consumerism is getting closer to making this a reality.
Healthcare Consumerism: What is it?
At its core, healthcare consumerism seeks to make patients fully involved in their healthcare. It does so by reshaping employer-sponsored benefits and putting plan participants in charge of both their decision-making and economic purchasing ability.
However, in their current form, many plans don’t ask much of participants in terms of how they consume healthcare services, and as a result, people tend to give very little attention to the cost. Furthermore, unlike shopping for a home, most people don’t like to shop for healthcare or manage their personal health information; instead, they would rather “be cared for by an efficient and effective healthcare system that respects their preferences.”
How can Healthcare Consumerism be the Solution?
In order to become more careful and thoughtful healthcare patients, consumers need information, financial incentives, and decision-making tools from healthcare professionals and plan providers. These key pieces can empower consumers to make better, more educated healthcare purchasing decisions.
According to NRC Health, healthcare consumerism is designed to:
- Foster closer communications and cooperation between doctors and their patients
- Increase patient buy-in and compliance with treatment recommendations
- Increase patients’ knowledge and awareness of lifestyle and wellness practices
- Focus more on preventative medicine by encouraging healthy activities and habits
In the end, providing improved healthcare and patient outcomes while also lowering costs and increasing efficiency throughout the healthcare industry is the main objective.
The Impact of Consumer Directed Healthcare
When it comes to managing their own health, today’s consumers want to be more responsible. However, most people feel they’re not equipped to do so. In other industries, such as car buying, customers have access to features, benefits, and cost comparisons that inform their purchasing decisions. In contrast, however, the healthcare industry lacks upfront pricing information and presents a host of puzzling choices, contact points, and service flows.
For three-quarters of consumers, healthcare decisions are the most important and costly decisions they make. Yet, patients often decline treatment because they’re discouraged and confused by the process of selecting and paying for medical services.
As more and more healthcare consumers look to make better decisions, they’re demanding better, more transparent information from healthcare providers. They’re also asking for more of a partner relationship rather than a one-way dialog from doctor to patient.
At the same time, as healthcare costs continue to rise, consumers are being required to assume more responsibility for their health plan premiums, co-pays, and out-of-pocket expenses. How do consumers pay for these costs?
Consumer Directed Healthcare Accounts
At the center of healthcare consumerism are Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs), and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).
These employer-sponsored benefit accounts allow participants to use set aside funds for out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. While they’re all unique in design, including funding, ownership and tax advantages, they give the spending power directly to the participants. Plus, due to IRS regulations on eligible medical expenses, consumers must be careful how they use their benefit dollars.
What Lies Ahead
Healthcare consumerism is going to require healthcare professionals to alter the way they market, deliver, and charge for their services. In particular, healthcare providers will need to focus on building their brands as they strive to operate in a highly competitive market.
As healthcare consumerism evolves, expect to see the following:
- Consumers will continue see an increase in personal responsibility for premiums and out-of-pocket expenses
- Employers will help mitigate some of the costs through HSAs and other tax-advantaged plans
- Consumers will see more verified patient ratings and provider reviews from healthcare organizations and use them as a factor their decisions
- Healthcare service delivery will become more marketing-driven
As healthcare moves toward emphasizing value over volume, patient care and provider compensation will undergo a profound transformation. The state of healthcare is constantly being refined, but with healthcare consumerism on the rise, there should be a more efficient, cost-effective system for all.