The nurse who wakes up a patient to administer a sleeping pill is an old staple of healthcare humor. Anecdotes like that portray patients as powerless and the system as indifferent to their plight. But no more.
A wave of consumerism is sweeping through healthcare, fed in part by higher costs to patients for insurance premiums and prescription drugs and by cost-cutting by health plans seeking to show profits.
Some of the results:
* According to various studies, some 40 million Americans say they log onto the Internet regularly to gather information on their medical conditions and collect data to determine courses of treatment.
* Advertisements by pharmaceutical firms drive patients to ask for new prescriptions from their physicians.
* New businesses have sprung up to help individuals negotiate discounts with hundreds of thousands of providers, either through the Internet or via membership cards.
Meanwhile, health plans continue to do a poor job of responding to this consumer unrest. According to recent Gallup surveys, only 54% of Americans are satisfied with the healthcare they receive. HMOs and PPOs increasingly are under pressure to deliver higher-quality service. And consumers may get even more say with the gradual push toward a "defined contribution," which allows individuals to choose their own health insurance options.