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The new age of empowered health care consumers

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The emerging consumer-centric health care models are in stark contrast to what’s being left behind, and perhaps nobody understands that more than Ken Kleinberg.

Kleinberg, managing director of research and insights for The Advisory Board Co., spoke recently during the 2014 Digital Healthcare Conference produced by WTN Media. The two-day conference, held at the Fluno Center at UW-Madison, was organized around the theme “Preparing for Healthcare Business Model Disruption.”

“It’s really valuable to start thinking about where this industry can go if certain types of disruptions occur.” — Ken Kleinberg, The Advisory Board Co.

The title of Kleinberg’s presentation, “Goodbye Marcus Welby, Hello Retail Clinics and Empowered Consumers,” provided a clue as to what the future holds. Kleinberg says the changes we’re about to witness ultimately will cause attitude adjustments among physicians who now complain that retail health clinics are not staffed by doctors, or that drugs actually are being sold where they are prescribed.

“It’s like a dinosaur complaining that the mammals are taking over,” Kleinberg stated.

As disruptive models develop over the next decade, providers had better respect the myriad care choices that are becoming available to consumers. That comes with the territory as more Americans move into high-deductible health plans, a trend that is helping to usher in an era of health consumerism in which patients bear more of the cost and become more discerning buyers.

The resulting disruptive business models will replace the “we-will-bill-you” mentality with a “we-will-serve-you” ethic. Large retailers like Walgreens and Walmart are taking the lead with retail health clinics that have begun to deliver digitally connected, low-cost services.

No room for old-school

In his current position, Kleinberg specializes in helping health care stakeholders with IT strategy, including the use of electronic health records, the exchange of health information, and mobile computing. This has given him a unique perspective into the disruption that’s now underway, especially the pockets of physician resistance that eventually will bow to the new consumer-driven reality.

“It’s really valuable to start thinking about where this industry can go if certain types of disruptions occur,” Kleinberg says. “Particular examples would be what patients can do by themselves with monitoring equipment and their iPhones and apps, and how might that mesh with what’s coming down from hospitals and providers in the applications and devices and approaches that they are taking?”

Kleinberg hopes these two worlds meet in the middle, but he says that will require “a little bit of acceptance from clinicians that the data and the interest that patients have in their own health could actually help them do a better job.” In an ACA world where the medical profession is more focused on outcomes, he thinks that acceptance will eventually come.

It’s not that physicians don’t understand that we’re heading into a patient-centric world, it’s that their experience with the doctor-patient relationship conditions them to distrust it. “I think what happens is that when patients go in and meet with their physicians, they are nervous, they are not feeling well, they are rushed, and they are in unfamiliar territory,” Kleinberg explained. “They don’t understand their bodies or chemistry and so forth to enough of a degree, and the jargon and terminology are, of course, very complicated.

“So when the physician is talking to them, they often get confused about their medical history — they get it wrong — and when physicians ask what drugs they are taking, they get it mixed up. I think over time, physicians believe that patients really aren’t in a very good position to manage their own health because that’s really the view they see, with patients not being particularly well educated or knowledgeable about those conditions.”

On the flip side, Kleinberg believes it would be a mistake to underestimate patients, especially when the emerging models give them more skin in the game, and therefore create financial incentives to become more astute. “If you give people clear education, if you give them the resources and the tools, most of them, over time — and this is the trend I think we’ll see — will pay more attention and do a better job.”

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