It seems that every time I pick up a magazine or newspaper or turn on the radio these days, there’s a piece about healthcare. SLASH HEALTH COSTS and still get great care…(Money), HOW TO CHOOSE A HEALTHCARE PLAN (Inc.), WHY AMERICANS ARE GOING ABROAD FOR HEALTHCARE (Fast Company) or AMERICANS CUTTING BACK ON MEDICAL CARE (one in a lengthy list of healthcare topics covered on NPR). It’s no surprise as coverage of healthcare is booming! A quick search of American News Magazines on NewsBank for the term “healthcare” yielded the following trend:
- 2005: 220 results
- 2006: 296 results
- 2007: 425 results
- 2008: 313 results (and it’s not August yet!)
What’s got our attention? More Americans are on the hook to pay more of the bill for healthcare through a combination of high-deductible plans and the growing ranks of the uninsured. Through force of the pocketbook, we’re starting to take notice and give some thought to the options before us. This was always the stated aim of high-deductible insurance. It’s working – you’ve got our attention. The question is – is this a good thing?
As we’re taking notice, we are running solidly into a general lack of medical literacy amongst US consumers. More than anything, the focus of the majority of this coverage appears to be on the financial implications of the new healthcare reality that many consumers are facing with a subtext of some sort of quality tradeoff.
In the short term, the answer is that consumers are having a tough time differentiating along quality lines. This leaves most consumers viewing healthcare, largely, as a commodity. And being unable to get meaningful cost information, they are making decisions based primarily on patient satisfaction.
“In its early stages, a disruptive innovation doesn’t perform
as well as the product it eventually displaces.”
Clark Gilbert and Joseph L. Bower , Disruption: The Art of Framing, HBS, June 10, 2002
Disruptive industry change can be this way at times. In the short term, we’re seeing greater burdens placed on consumers who lack the tools to act, or given those tools, cannot (or choose not to ) use them.
A National Bureau of Economic Research report ( Do Report Cards Tell Consumers Anything They Don’t Already Know?, National Bureau of Economic Research) from earlier this year indicated that even amongst those consumers looking for quality data, decisions were made based on patient satisfaction scores. On the pricing side of the equation, a recent article in Modern Healthcare, (Transparency at what cost? Cinda Becker, 06/2008 ) questions both the demand for and utility of such information.
In the long-term, does this engagement have value for the system? Absolutely!
- Consumers are recognizing that they have choices to make and this is getting them engaged in new ways
- Tools are becoming available (primarily through the Internet) to assist consumers in understanding the choices that they face
- Over time, with continued engagement, health literacy amongst consumers will grow
- Transparency is forcing many providers to recognize their own operational issues, particularly those related to quality, efficiency, and the consumer experience
Are the benefits worth the challenges that many consumers will face along the way? You tell me…