Consumers Rule

by Mark Wechsler | Arrow Systems Integration

Remember the good old days? Doctors ruled! Everyone else followed. The modern healthcare scene is now quite different. Doctors do not rule and nor do nurses, administrators, or insurance payers. Today the patient is in charge. Healthcare consumers rule. They are becoming accountable for all aspects of their health. Consumers are proactively selecting their doctors, hospitals, rehab facilities, nursing homes, and insurance. They decide who and how to communicate with their providers and insurance companies. Healthcare consumers are relying on newer multi-media modes of communication to access and share their information using smartphones, personal devices, and applications which are rapidly becoming an integrated component of their daily health regimen.

As in other industries, the technology adoption paradigm in healthcare has changed. Consumers are the overwhelming early adopters when it comes to smartphones, personal devices, and applications to monitor and track personal well-being. They are the innovators. They embrace new ways to use voice, pictures, video, and text on an almost daily basis.

According to a recent Harris Interactive/HealthDay survey, people and particularly younger adults are interested in experimenting with personal healthcare devices and applications. Personal devices capable of monitoring exercise levels, blood pressure, caloric intake, sleep, and metabolic rates are now readily available in the consumer market. Companies such as Withings, Fitbit, and Jawbone offer devices near and below $100. Form factor, battery life, feature set, and applications now drive the healthcare consumer’s choice and adoption rate. Cost is a minimal factor.

Healthcare providers and payers must take quite the opposite approach in adopting technology – particularly when it is associated with monitoring their patient’s health. Business guidelines and financial constraints force the lag behind consumers in technology adoption. They are constrained by compliance and regulatory controls. Cost plays a role as well. Healthcare companies incur support, administration, and infrastructure expense that is little or no concern to the healthcare consumer. Additional cost and complexity occur given the diversity in personal healthcare devices and applications – none of which follow a standard for either data formatting or exchange. All of this continues to reinforce use of the lowest common denominator for communications between consumers and healthcare providers and payers – basic telephony and Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS).

There is a growing communication chasm between healthcare companies and the customers they wish to serve. Healthcare are aware of the growing demands of personal monitors, social media, video, and smartphone applications and their need to begin deploying services in support of them. The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that many potential patients, members, and subscribers belonging to younger generations do not rely on POTS and see no real need for it. Their access to a fax machine is less likely.

As a result, we are beginning to see some healthcare providers and payers recognize the need to prepare for the inevitable. They must find ways to adapt and take advantage of the advances in multi-media communications for the purpose of acquiring and sharing information with the consumers they wish to service. The risk of not doing so is too great. Remembering that in today’s world consumers rule healthcare, those that find it difficult or inconvenient to communicate with their provider or payer will simply take their business elsewhere. For providers and payers the failure to communicate and collaborate on the patient’s terms will likely reduce operating efficiencies resulting in higher costs, reductions in patient satisfaction and a lower quality of care.

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