I recently read the article “There are no consumers in Healthcare, get over it.” by Dr. Jordan Shlain as well as a Forbes article by Dr. Robert Pearl titled “Are you a Patient Or A Healthcare Consumer?”. You should read both. They both offer excellent perspectives that challenge or at least question the concept of retailization in healthcare versus a need-based service that has little in common with what we all view as consumerism. I did appreciate Dr. Shlain’s view that unlike consumerism, where a person is “shopping” to get something, in healthcare, the patient almost always wants to get rid of something. And, I loved his short list of riddance-based industries including the garbage man, the exterminator, the divorce lawyer and last, but not least, doctors.
While we here at K2MD Health agree that traditional retail consumers and medical patients are apples and oranges, from our perspective as healthcare branders, there is a consumer mentality in play for many choices available to patients, or consumers, or people, or whatever we want to call them. In the case of a life-threatening medical emergency, it’s less likely the patient is going to exercise his or her consumer choice. But even in that scenario, a heart attack patient may request to be taken to a “heart hospital” versus a nearby general hospital because of advertising promoting the technology and expertise specific to heart care.
We always caution against placing much stock in our personal opinions (referring to this as “the focus group of one”) but I will share my recent experience of falling off a ladder and fracturing my wrist and elbow. After the showdown between altitude, concrete and my right arm, I was confident that I had broken something. Instead of rushing to the nearest E.R., I instead, chose to look up the hospital system that promoted E.R. wait times on their website. I compared my options, and my wife drove me to the one with the shortest wait time. Classic consumerism, right? From that point, I admit, it was not making any choices and was in the system’s process for triage, treatment and discharge. (Though I did get a choice of cast color, so the experience wasn’t completely without options!)
Healthcare may not be at the same level of typical retail consumer products and services, but access to medical insight/education along with customer/patient reviews and an increased level of healthcare competition in most metropolitan areas says that healthcare is changing and finding its place in the ever-crowded consumer mind. And, the tools that successfully work in retail are working in healthcare. So our take away is this: People are people. They like improved experiences, comfortable environments, they want to be heard, and they like choice. Maybe it’s a retail approach, or perhaps it’s not, but if healthcare builds on these proven consumer fundamentals… they will come.