The consumer movement in healthcare is largely failing, which has fueled a debate over whether it’s worth saving.
People wait months for appointments. Quality data is scarce and obscure. Hospital discharge packets are several inches thick. Confusing charges fill surprise bills. Providers sue patients.
Healthcare executives are trying to change that. They are rolling out online portals, remote monitoring devices, virtual consultations, and scheduling and billing tools to try to get individuals more involved in their health.
While they argue this is an essential pursuit in search of healthcare’s “value-based” mantra, skeptics contend that consumers don’t have the information to best steer their care, so ultimately putting the onus on patients may do more harm than good.
“There is a fatal flaw with a lot of consumerist thought,” said Andrew Ryan, professor of health management and policy at the University of Michigan. “Patients are not doctors.”
That has contributed to the current conflicting dynamic. Patients may come to the doctor with research and suggestions, but they’re often dismissed, given their lack of expertise.
Now industry experts are claiming a more cohesive partnership is the best way forward. But to get there, they must overcome years of mistrust and doubt. “This is a big ship to turn,” said Joe Fifer, CEO of the Healthcare Financial Management Association.
In theory, a consumer-focused healthcare system will naturally weed out waste as consumers gravitate toward high-quality, low-cost providers that serve them best. Individuals get treatment quicker and are ultimately healthier, saving everyone time and money.
Much of this hinges on accurate data. Up to this point, the work putting data and decisionmaking in consumers’ hands has not produced a healthy partnership with clinicians, said Anna Sinaiko, assistant professor of health economics and policy at the Harvard School of Public Health.
“Efforts to report on quality and price haven’t been able to overcome the central challenge, which is patients knowing what they need for care,” Sinaiko said. Even if they do, clinicians typically weren’t trained in having conversations about costs, she added.