Consumer Advocacy: Coming to Health Care

In 2011, Apple was forced to improve its oversight of labor practices in China after a 15-year-old girl fatally collapsed – and consumers balked. More recently, a social media campaign enlisted millions and took aim at Subway, forcing the company to stop using azodiacarbonamide, a chemical that improves the elasticity of bread – and yoga mats.

Mitch 4 300x190 Consumer Advocacy: Coming to Health Care PhotoThere are several examples of consumer advocacy campaigns fixing wrongdoings in the marketplace. Now, it’s time these tactics were used to extinguish bad behaviors in health care.

To date, it’s been difficult obtaining health information that allows consumers to ban together and wield the power they have in other marketplaces. Don’t like that dolphins get tangled in fishing nets? You can stand up for animal rights by purchasing dolphin-safe tuna. Don’t trust the pesticides used on apples? You can choose to spend more and buy organic produce.

But, for too long, little to no data has been available regarding provider quality or cost for consumers to make informed decisions on one of the most important purchase decisions they make: Which doctor should I choose to take care of me? And which one should I avoid?

In the book “Unaccountable,” author Dr. Marty Makary tells about being at a conference of surgeons where the speaker asks the audience to raise their hand if they worked with a doctor who was unsafe to be practicing. Every hand in the room went up.

The University of California San Francisco found that an appendectomy in the state could cost anywhere from $1,529 to $182,955. Those price fluctuations happen across the country. Indeed, most patients don’t know they can save thousands of dollars just by driving to a different town.

So how do we foster a system of checks and balances? Data on procedure volume and outcomes, complication rates, bounce backs and wait times; Personal experiences from patients who can reveal what recovery is like for a procedure and how a doctor was during follow-up care; And cost information so we can compare similar services at hospitals, doctor offices and alternative care facilities like urgent care centers and retail clinics.

Data tools that combine cost and quality will expose doctors who overcharge, over treat, and who are just downright dangerous. A 2013 study from Health Affairs showed that informed patients are not only healthier, but can save upwards of 20 percent on their care. Those type of statistics matter when medical debt among consumers is the number one reason for bankruptcy.

Transparency is slowly coming via online websites, health plans, and to a certain degree, hospitals. But we’ve still got a long way to go to liberate the data that empowers patients and keeps us safe. It’s time to flex our consumer muscle and insist our health system do better. We’ve fought for fairness in the marketplace before. This time it’s personal.