The rules that providers, insurance companies and patients have come to expect are radically changing. And the new landscape is increasingly complicated. There are more health insurance options. More choices in medical caregivers. And more people who need both.
These changes will force patients to consume health like they do other commodities – as educated shoppers and informed buyers who know what they want.
One only has to look at other industries to predict how the future of health care will shake out. At one point, travelers saw agents to book their vacations —transportation, lodging, routing, all in one package. Now, the travel agent is virtually extinct. Travelers book their trips piecemeal on the Internet where they can compare availability, rates and quality in real time.
The auto insurance industry had a similar power shift. In the 1960s and ‘70s, U.S. states widely adopted compulsory auto insurance laws. Since then, the industry has become consumer focused with an emphasis on driving prices lower. While the average consumer spent four years with an auto insurance plan 10 years ago, today the average today is 18 months. Geckos, Flo and lots of advertising mascots have increased switching behavior.
Similarly, the healthcare market is about to become much more consumer-friendly, with patients demanding transparency that allows them to make smarter decisions about healthcare providers and insurance plan choices. As a result, health plans are starting to adjust – by putting on a consumer face and developing brands that are marketed to individuals, rather than employees.
One key driver of this change is the Affordable Care Act, which mandates that tens of millions of Americans purchase health insurance.
Another big driver is cost. Simply put, we can no longer afford the health care we’ve been promising to each other. Many companies are turning to lower-cost, high-deductible plans or giving employees the option to self-manage their health care dollars. (We saw a similar change in the 1980s, when companies began switching from offering pensions to 401K plans.)
Consider this: There are 720,000 practicing doctors in the U.S. treating more than 300 million Americans. The average time you spend with a doctor is 6 minutes; the time you wait before you see a doctor is more than 20 minutes and increasing. It doesn’t take an economist to realize that there’s a supply and demand problem.
As a result, we’re depending more on physician extenders for our care. Physicians assistants and nurse practitioners are filling in for doctors where appropriate. Urgent care clinics are popping up in cities and towns to serve patients who don’t want to wait days or weeks for an appointment. There’s now more than 9,000 of them, nationwide. Even pharmacy chains are offering services that previously were provided by medical doctors.
The transformation we’re experiencing brings added responsibilities and choices to the lives of consumers. And yet, the data necessary to make informed decisions about health care is time-consuming to collect, confusing, and often less than transparent.
As the industry evolves, we’ll see increased demand for transparency tools that enable consumers to decide on the health care options right for them.
Companies that evolve into consumer-oriented businesses, that master customer service, and that offer useful tools that give consumers the ability to understand their health care choices – these are the ones who are creating the future.