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Consumerization Is Not A Bad Word

When you say consumerization, especially with respect to healthcare, people often jump to conclusions about valuing service over substance. There’s a lot of confusion over the meaning of consumerization, whether it’s possible in healthcare, and whether it’s happening. I recently had the privilege of speaking at the Washington State Health Exchange’s Annual Board Retreat on this topic. (Perhaps you saw it, the event was live-streamed to the public. 😉 ). The Health Exchange is pondering questions of how to attract new users, how to better serve their needs, and how to make the experience more useful and engaging. And, this my friends is consumerism, or at least one facet of it: user focus, better service, understanding needs. Doesn’t sound bad at all, does it? In fact, it sounds like something any good service or organization should be doing for its customers.

Consumer-centered pain scale. Baymax from Disney's Big Hero Six

Consumer-centered pain scale. Baymax from Disney’s Big Hero Six

And there’s that word, customers. That’s the debate. Are patients really customers? Not really, often they don’t have a choice, either because of their insurance coverage or from the necessity of an emergency where decisions are often made for patients. However, patients, and everyone else for that matter (except people in North Korea), are consumers, and they judge healthcare experiences both service delivery and technology as consumers. Think of it like this, your patients will judge your experiences through the lens of any other service they’ve interacted with. Fair or not, they will do that. Why do they do this? It’s human nature to remember positive experiences and try to seek them out. Although there’s another reason: high-deductibles are also driving people to examine where they are spending their healthcare dollars, and they evaluate based on outcomes, convenience, and the overall experience.

Since healthcare technology is my area of expertise, let’s stick to that rather than critiquing hospital parking, food, or beds. (Although these are often things that impact HCAHPS scores.) Consumerization when applied to health IT means that patients have an expectation that any technology you ask them to engage with, and especially technology you ask them to install on their own devices, will be as usable as any other app they’ve installed.

Consumerization also impacts internal health IT. Doctors were the first wave, when they pushed using their own devices to text with other providers within the hospital setting. (In IT this is often referred to as “bring your own device.”) The pager became obsolete and replaced with our own always on, always connected mobile devices. (Sadly, the fax machine, like a cockroach, keeps hanging in there.)

Patients are also bringing their own devices, and using them in waiting rooms and hospital beds. We’ve had patients reporting their own symptoms using Wellpepper interactive care plans from their hospital beds. This presents an opportunity to engage, and at a low cost: they are supplying the hardware. The final wave of consumerism will happen when clinicians and other hospital staff also demand convenient, usable, and well-designed tools for clinical care.

Consumerization is late to arrive in healthcare IT. Other industries have already reached tail end of this wave, and have already realized that technology needs to be easy to use, accessible, interoperable, and designed with the end-user foremost. However, consumerization is coming, both from internal staff demands and patients. Technology, healthcare IT, and the people that build and support it are facing scrutiny, being held to higher standards, and becoming part of the strategic decision-making healthcare organizations. This is a great thing, as it will result in better clinician and patient experiences overall, because at its core consumerism is about expecting value, and ease and getting it, and who doesn’t want that?

Posted in: Healthcare Disruption, Healthcare Technology, Healthcare transformation, Interoperability, M-health, Outcomes, Patient Satisfaction

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