Healthcare News & Insights

Will 2019 (finally) be the year of patient empowerment?

The healthcare industry has been trying to engage and empower patients through digital records, patient portals and a host of mobile apps. Consumers, however, are getting frustrated because they aren’t seeing the promised improvements in convenience, costs or outcomes fast enough. In this guest post C. Anthony Jones, CEO of a health IT company, predicts how this patient frustration will lead to even greater patient empowerment.

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For any service-related business, consumer empowerment is a double-edged sword. On one hand, empowering consumers to perform more tasks for themselves can translate into significant cost savings for organizations. This means greater profits for re-investment, increased shareholder dividends and improved market valuation. But to realize these benefits, consumer empowerment also requires increased transparency, encouraging consumers to be more selective and demanding. This puts pressure on service providers of all types to invest in continuous improvements, be more responsive to consumer demands and compete in a more volatile market.

Healthcare organizations, like their counterparts in other service businesses, have attempted to capture the cost-saving benefits of empowerment. Digital records, patient portals and a host of mobile apps have been touted as breakthrough advances designed to help consumers become more engaged and empowered. Unfortunately, these “advances” have failed to deliver on the promised improvements in convenience, costs or outcomes for patients. Instead, patients and their families are increasingly left to their own devices in a complex, unfriendly and overly-expensive healthcare system.

Given these realities, it would be easy to conclude that patient empowerment will slow or even recede in the coming years. However, the combination of unsustainable cost increases, raw frustration and raised expectations from other industries will pave the way for more (not less) patient empowerment. But this time, empowerment will be driven by consumers themselves instead of traditional healthcare organizations.

Prediction 1

Consumers will redefine patient empowerment based on their non-healthcare experiences

The biggest threat that Amazon, Google and others pose to the healthcare industry isn’t home drug delivery or a new cloud-based electronic medical records (EMR). These digital innovators’ biggest influence on health care will be how they continue to raise consumer expectations with respect to what’s possible through digital innovation. Consumers will increasingly ask, “given what Amazon and Google can deliver with respect to information, speed and tools, why should my healthcare experience be so bad?” Healthcare organizations that continue a “delay and pray” approach to meaningful patient empowerment risk becoming irrelevant.

Prediction 2

Consumers will exert more influence through employers and legislators to increase empowerment

No one feels the pain of healthcare cost increases more acutely than consumers, employers and the government. In spite of ongoing promises to deliver on the triple aim, drive more innovation and reduce waste, healthcare organizations have struggled to deliver quantifiable improvements. Where individual consumers have little power in the current healthcare environment, millions of consumers working in conjunction with their employers have a tremendous amount of power and the ability to force change at the market and legislative levels. Healthcare organizations have to decide whether they want to fight this change or be active participants. But change is coming.

Prediction 3

Consumers’ desire for decision support tools will supplant information volume

Digitizing more healthcare information was an essential first step to enable patient empowerment. But taking terabytes of information that were originally created for consumption by trained providers, actuaries and scientists, and pushing it to consumers through an online portal isn’t innovation. Relying on patients to self-diagnose with “Dr. Google” fails to acknowledge the half-truths, erroneous conclusions and fraud that’s pervasive on the Internet. Consumers need their own decision-support tools to help them answer the simple question that’s at the heart of patient empowerment: What does this mean for me?

Prediction 4

Transparency in health care is going to accelerate … rapidly

Patient empowerment can’t exist without information transparency. This means the days of undisclosed rebates, buried clinical trial data and hidden industry-provider payments are coming to an end. Legislation has already been passed to force more transparency among hospitals, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and others to better align what they do and what they say. While most of this legislation is modest and should be relatively easy to implement, it heralds the start of a larger trend that will increase as more of the dark corners of health care are exposed to light.

In 2019, it’s imperative that all traditional healthcare organizations – providers, payers, manufacturers and others – give equal attention to both edges of the patient empowerment sword. It is no longer sufficient to focus exclusively on the cost-saving benefits to the organization while forcing patients to fend for themselves in an unnecessarily complex and costly system. Consumers have too many examples of true empowerment from the retail, banking and hospitality industries to continue to accept healthcare’s one-sided approach. Improved costs, access and outcomes are only achievable in a market where patients and their families are equipped and empowered to make informed healthcare choices that align with their preferences.

Anthony Jones is a healthcare executive with more than 25 years of industry experience. He’s the Founder and CEO of Frontive, a health IT company that uses artificial intelligence to create Smart Personal Health Assistants for patients and caregivers managing complex care situations.

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