Experts: Industry players shouldn't fear rise of consumerism in healthcare

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The healthcare industry shouldn't fear consumerism, experts said at a panel on Wednesday. (Getty/anyaberkut)

WASHINGTON—Healthcare players shouldn't fear rapid industry change and growing emphasis on consumerism, experts said.

American Hospital Association President Rick Pollack addressed two main disruptive forces changing healthcare in his opening remarks at a panel discussion Wednesday on innovative ways to meet the needs of communities and how the healthcare system is adapting to outside forces.  

Pollack said the first disrupter to watch is the increased engagement of patients in their own care; the second is new entrants into the field—including tech companies like Google, Apple and Amazon—and the expanding roles of traditional names such as CVS or Optum. 

“We are fueled by desire to lead innovation and increase value and affordable comprehensive care in a rapidly changing environment,” he said.

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Though the talk of patients as consumers leaves a bad taste in some people’s mouths. Panelist Sam Glick, partner at Oliver Wyman, said that this fruition—40 years in the making—is actually a good thing. While the industry has talked about turning patients into consumers for a long time, it has been just in the last decade that costs have gone up between 50% and 60%—200% out-of-pocket—and is primarily on the shoulders of the individuals. 

Glick pointed out that the average deductible in the U.S. is $1,600, forcing people to start behaving differently. In reality, some people are not even deciding between which provider to use for care, but between paying rent or seeking care. 

“It’s dramatically changed how people behave, that’s how real consumerism is,” Glick said. 

Michael Howell, M.D., chief clinical strategist of healthcare for Google, also noted the changing role of the consumer in the way that patients now access information. Today, many people immediately turn to the search engine for questions about their health, sometimes even before seeing a clinician. 

“I’ve had many patients coming in and knowing what they had before speaking with me,” he said. 

So, this is where the technology and the platforms developed by Google can really play a large role in not only the consumers’ end of diagnosis but also the providers', he said. As an example, Howell highlighted technology that can screen eyes for diabetic retinopathy.

Many people in the U.S. do not have access to screening for diabetic retinopathy and yet the disease is highly preventable, he said. Using AI technology, a new process can predict this disease with 97% accuracy. In this case, technology platforms are making health screening more affordable and accessible to people around the country. 

And while technology like telemedicine is often talked about, Glick told the audience that it should not be seen as a last resort for people without direct access to care, but perhaps as a frontline intervention. For example, when it comes to cognitive behavioral therapy, studies have found that there is a 30% better compliance rate with a screen than in front of another person due to personalization, flexibility, etc. 

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“We’ve seen with veterans, the screening can detect 20% more cases of PTSD than a face-to-face discharge session,” Glick said. “I see we have an opportunity to not just innovate around science but around the experience.”

In addition, the panelists addressed looking at technology as a way to administer better healthcare, not just inside clinician’s office.

“We have incredible tech in an exam room,” Glick said. “On the other end, we left our innovative brains at the door for the administration around it.” 

He noted that innovation has thus far not quite caught up with advancements in other verticals. While healthcare has added technology, it’s also added people instead of displacing people and redeploying resources. 

One of the big next steps is connecting the healthcare systems with the innovators. Clients on the innovation side say they have the money and the talent but often complain that they have trouble reaching the right point of contact at a health system. 

Still, Glick remains optimistic that a shift will eventually happen—as the system in the U.S. is not sustainable much longer as is—and that healthcare systems and innovators will figure out a better way to work together.