Healthcare Consumerism: “We Are Not In That Business”…Why Not?

The very first thing you say when communicating an idea has everything to do with whether your audience will pay attention to the rest of your message.  For example, if you are writing a suspense novel a good first sentence might be, “The man sitting across from me in the diner did not know he had less than ten minutes to live.”  If the man was truly enjoying his breakfast during those last ten minutes, another good opening sentence might be, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”—but somebody already used that line.

When presenting and idea to a hostile audience it doesn’t do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations.  Sometimes you can get lead your audience to where you want them to go by leaving a trail of breadcrumbs.  There are times, however, when the audience looks like they are still trying to figure out why Gilligan never got off the island.  That is when you know leaving a trail of breadcrumbs won’t suffice, and you the only way you can get them to follow your train of thought is by leaving entire loaves of bread.

During my last presentation I should have hijacked an entire bakery.  A woman in the front row kept shaking her head each time I spoke.  She was slim and trim, poised and preppy, and had the look of someone of keen intellect—the final step in the evolution of the species; or perhaps she was supposed to have been in the Wellesley Tri-Delta sorority reunion across the hall. I was trying my best to explain that healthcare consumers’ use of technology in other industries is what created healthcare’s driving force towards consumerism.  She looked at me as though I had suggested subliminally that she should assassinate the president of Colombia. I did not know if she was going to faint, cry, or ask for asylum in Iowa.  Though I thought she and I were on the same journey, I had overlooked the fact that she may not have been issued a roadmap.

Her behavior had usurped what little poise I had. “You’re not really into complex sentence structures, are you?” I thought of asking her, and then I said, “If you display the slides in reverse order it says ‘Paul is dead.’” (For those of you who didn’t grow up listening to the Beatles you may have to Google the allegory.)

Trying to explain healthcare’s immediate need to move towards consumerism to some people is like trying to explain the idea of cholesterol to a Big Mac; they don’t get it.  Judging from the looks of some members of my audience I realized I could have communicated the idea of consumerism better had I displayed a single slide depicting the game Wheel of Fortune, and prefilled the slide with C, O, N, S, U, M, E, R, I, S, _, leaving them wondering whether they needed to buy a vowel.  I mentally texted myself to start my next presentation with something more upbeat like the music, Ride of the Valkyries.

There is a worn military expression which states the diversion you are ignoring is really the main attack. I suggest respectfully to the provider community that healthcare consumerism is not a diversion or a feint; it is the main attack.

I displayed a slide showing how healthcare consumers expect to be able to interact with their providers.  Click-to-buy.  Twenty-four-seven access.  Up-to-date records of all interactions and real-time health data. (The concept sort of follows a generalized retail business model, but that is the idea because their model works.)  If you count yourself among the healthcare consumerism misanthropes you may be better served by opting out of the rest of this blog.

“Have you ever seen the model you are describing being used by a provider?”  A gentleman in the back row asked.

“No,” I replied. “But I’ve never seen my pancreases either, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

The most material difference between retail firms approaching healthcare from the perspective of consumers, and healthcare providers approaching patient acquisition and retention from the antediluvian perspective of the new-kids-on-the-block, the new-kids are actually adding customers hand over fist. If you do the math, they are actually adding customers hand over fist, and hand over fist…and so forth.

And here’s my point—yes, it took me a while, but hopefully it was worth the wait.

So, if you are a provider executive, or a board member of a provider, you should be screaming at someone.

Most of the people in your health system’s radius of service, the population you serve—think population health management—are regularly spending their healthcare dollars everywhere else but with you, spending it on retail providers.

Perhaps you are thinking, “We can’t make money testing people for strep throat.” CVS has a line of dump trucks carting away the money they are making from performing those tests.  Provider executives vehemently decried they are not in the business of healthcare consumerism. And they are correct in their declarations.  They aren’t.

Maybe they should be.

3 thoughts on “Healthcare Consumerism: “We Are Not In That Business”…Why Not?

  1. Any one of us working in the healthcare “business” has an unlimited opportunity to look at our business from the outside, as well as uniquely from the inside. We are actual consumers of healthcare, whether active or passive by good fortune, good genes, good habits or not yet running into our own unhealthy realities. But, those of us well-practiced in the business of healthcare tend to look at health-CARE through a scratched, missing or perhaps damaged lens. And we are best served to look after removal of our vested professional interests! The current opportunity is not lost on us! Ironically, it’s all about people: the consumer and us! And, us, as consumers!

    • We need to not spend huge volumes of healthcare dollars on technology that does not deliver an immediate high quality product. We need to buy expertise to purchase technology that does not require immense adaptation upon installation. And, we need to strategize how to purposefully engage consumers in available technology, and not simply assume a match!
    • We need to strategically assess the nature and volume of irreplaceable time that technology steals from our most precious resources: our staff. We need to talk with staff about their “patient care” experience. These are highly talented and committed professionals, worthy of our time and focus, not just when supply is limited. How can the care provider re-distribute time with expanded use of click and dialogue patient relationships? Have we carefully studied and accommodated for the different demands of such an on-call schedule?
    • We need to lose the rhetoric “we are patient centered” and willingly embrace reality. In what small and huge ways could we transform our processes and systems to truly demonstrate being patient-centered. Patients and staff do not want rhetoric, they want to experience meaningful actions!
    • We need to see, believe and experience what our patients see, believe and experience – yes, experience, as we are only as great as our worst quality of care and/or patient experience. What is the care flow, timing and interpersonal dynamics really like in our gizmo-whammied environment?
    • We cannot be loathe to any creative ideas or strategies, short of unethical or illegal practices. Let’s live our mission statements with wild exuberance, strategically demonstrating our values clearly within every patient and staff dynamic.

    We have the chance to re-invent healthcare! Being too comfortable in the predictable or inefficient may carry us forward, but does not carry healthcare forward. Let’s not live in familiarity, fear or reactivity. Let’s be daring, put our passion where our actions are, and truly embrace this time of opportunity!


      • Thanks, Paul! Thanks for the great article … we all need to be thinking in a creative resourceful way, without constraint! Thomas Edison delivered one of my favorite life quotes: “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” We can always do more and better!


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