Consumerism In Healthcare: The Relentless Chase Of An Elusive Goal

Consumerism In Healthcare: The Relentless Chase Of An Elusive Goal

John Nosta 03/07/2018 7

I guess it all converges on one point: the customer. From the dry cleaners to the operating room, the goal now seems to be customer-centricity. Yes, thumbs up, four stars, and likes are today's currency of success. In a recent survey by Kaufman Hall, that examined 200 hospitals and healthcare systems, the headline was loud and clear.

Survey of Major Health Systems Reveals a Great Emphasis on Consumer-Focused Strategies, but Progress Remains Slow

Let's take a closer look.

It's interesting that 90% of respondents stated that improving the customer experience is a high priority--a number that's jumped up from 30% in 2017. Further, the role of digital tools to engage customers has also climbed significantly from 14% to 64% over the same short time span. Hospitals seem to be catching the same consumer bug that pharma has been infected with for several years. But I don't know if the cure is worse than the disease.

I remain worried. And there are two central concerns:

  • Will patient-centricity truly trump superior care and drive a market where style over substance can adversely impact the quality of care?
  • Are hospitals wasting valuable dollars by following the herd with poorly planned and tracked consumer marketing programs?

OK, nice waiting rooms and on-line scheduling is fine. Let's even throw in some billboards and TV spots too. But just as pharma seems to be defined by their ubiquitous "I've got my life back" taglines, I sense that hospitals are looking to become the next Apple story or Amazon experience. (I wonder what Atul Gawande would think?) But does this obsession with the patient—I mean the consumer—reflect the best strategy for superior medical care? The blurred distinctions of consumer brands rely on perception as the path to creating a key reality. But perceptions of efficacy and safety are vastly different and the imposition of "joy" and "satisfaction" as the new statistical p value. Well, perhaps p now stands for patient!

Here's a quote from the study that confounds this even more.

We are assuming we know what they (consumers) want, but I'm not sure we do.

Unnamed executive

And as we dig a little deeper, we find that many hospitals are ill prepared to do the "history and physical exam" of marketing to be successful.  Only 15% of respondents indicated that they have personnel trained and experienced in consumer research. And only 25% had a fully operational team in this area.

And this is where we end up: at a point where "progress remains slow."

Healthcare is broken. Just ask anyone. And the path to repair may be less about the "consumerization" of care but the implementation of quality, data-driven guidelines for both care receiver and care provider. And advances in technology can certainly help drive change. But that "search for joy" may be taking our eyes off the ball and making us seek more of an elusive than practical goal. Of course, the patient experience is essential. But the prioritization of strategy is as important as the strategy itself. Pushing customer-centricity to the front of the pack and implementing it with an ill-informed staff is no path at all. It's simply not affordable and might just be a dangerous waste of time.

A version of this article appeared on Forbes.

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  • Greg Whelan

    The healthcare system needs some changes to satisfy patients and doctors.

  • Henry Michaels

    Well stated !!

  • Luke Farren

    Agree to the core

  • Timothy Glenn

    Interesting post

  • Danny Straughan

    I won't say it's a waste of time but they should seriously focus on implementing more innovative solutions

  • Nick Vanderleest

    Despite growing access to quality metrics and hospital rankings, there still are holes in that data

  • Lisa Kennedy

    Consumerism has advanced far beyond where it was just a few years ago

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John Nosta

Digital Health Expert

John is the #1 global influencer in digital health and generally regarded as one of the top global strategic and creative thinkers in this important and expanding area. He is also one the most popular speakers around the globe presenting his vibrant and insightful perspective on the future of health innovation. His focus is on guiding companies, NGOs, and governments through the dynamics of exponential change in the health / tech marketplaces. He is also a member of the Google Health Advisory Board, pens HEALTH CRITICAL for Forbes--a top global blog on health & technology and THE DIGITAL SELF for Psychology Today—a leading blog focused on the digital transformation of humanity. He is also on the faculty of Exponential Medicine. John has an established reputation as a vocal advocate for strategic thinking and creativity. He has built his career on the “science of advertising,” a process where strategy and creativity work together for superior marketing. He has also been recognized for his ability to translate difficult medical and scientific concepts into material that can be more easily communicated to consumers, clinicians and scientists. Additionally, John has distinguished himself as a scientific thinker. Earlier in his career, John was a research associate at Harvard Medical School and has co-authored several papers with global thought-leaders in the field of cardiovascular physiology with a focus on acute myocardial infarction, ventricular arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death.

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