The healthcare system today is characterized by a maximum of complexity, chaos, and change, all of which are typical characteristics of a “fin de siècle,” or the end of an era. Like many other historical tides that signaled both the closing of an era and opening of another, it is filled with sentiments of cynicism and pessimism. This multitude of unknowns is triggering immobility among healthcare consumers, and the added complexity may also be a key factor in the tension among providers as well as the silo-fication of services.
As a result, hospitals today are filled more with anxiety than with satisfied patients. Patients are reluctant to engage with this new system without some evidence of a beneficial new order—simplicity (less complexity), access (less chaos), and stability (less change.)
The end of the era in healthcare may be dialing up life stage anxiety among our targets as well. Both qualitative and quantitative research revealed that the ideal healthcare delivery of the future varies by age group. The 18-28 year cohort is in pursuit of safety and security; the 35-54 year group is in pursuit of the needs of their families, and the 55-69 year set is in pursuit of self-actualization and problem solving.
Perhaps due to the unprecedented economic pressures they face, the 18 to 28 year cohort has a strong desire to get out of their parents’ houses, but also have a fear of leaving. One group envisioned a ‘future care’ offering of a ‘non-emergency’ ambulance in which a ‘mom’ who knew what she was talking about “came to your house and told you what was going on with your health, and whether you have to worry about it.”
This age group presents a huge opportunity for primary care. When it comes to healthcare, they know they’re somewhat inexperienced, if not incompetent. Might it be possible to make urgent care businesses the ‘go-to’ place for primary care? Stop in, be treated, and get a coupon for Wegman’s chicken soup.
Female healthcare-decision makers among the 35-54 year olds represented the flip side of the coin, and imagined a steady state of their nuclear families, “where I am happy and healthy just like I am now.” Some women looked forward to their children being in college, or in their adult lives, but more as validation of their success as independent adults. In this group, hospitals equaled catastrophe.
Mature consumers 55 to 69 years old, envisioned a utopian “retired” state, similar to a permanent vacation. This seemed to be the alternative to the illness and decline they fear with the onset of old age. What was clear was that their ideal healthcare experience, a spa-like destination, was the antithesis of the modern hospital, which actually represents the locus of illness and injury. “Where I feel relaxed makes me healthy—[I have actually spent] very little time at hospitals.” Overall, personal goals are related to a state of happiness, which is related to one’s state of health.
Let’s face it. The personalized, family physician-delivered healthcare model we all knew has hung up its shingle for good. Healthcare has gotten cold. Patients, who once relied on the comfort of their family physicians, must now navigate through insurers, health-conglomerates and government regulators just to receive the most basic of care. Any attempts to rip costs from the system ripped relationships off with it. Ouch.
Furthermore, as technology continues to shape the ways our culture consumes information and goods, healthcare is racing to keep up. Consumers have come to expect instant gratification and personalization everywhere they go. Log onto Amazon.com and what’s the first thing you see? Recommendations for you. The current healthcare system fails to provide anything near that immediate. It has become a depersonalized engagement where the customized experience a consumer wants—better yet, needs—is just not for sale.
All of this begs the question, how can we get back on track? In researching how patients respond to, and interact with, their healthcare experience, Big Arrow Group believes that success lies in focusing on two qualities fiscally trimmed from the system: personalization and simplicity.
First, let’s get personal: Patients need to renounce their passive roles and become real consumers of health, what we’re calling the new class of “Self-Health Agents.” Whether it’s because the insurer handcuffs consumers with limited care options, or the increasing fiscal responsibility patients are asked to bear, there’s no room for autonomy within the current “System.” The last decade of disarray has triggered patients to cut loose from their observer roles, and healthcare providers are taking note. Forced to imagine something better, patients are no longer sitting on the sidelines and letting the system dictate their care.
Consumerism is driving the development of emerging healthcare solutions like bundling and concierge medicine. Today’s healthcare consumers want improved access, simplicity and personal environments that match their expectations for comfort, value and a quality experience. If healthcare providers don’t step up, the consumer will look elsewhere: Just look at the encroachment of non-healthcare brands into the healthcare space: Google for medical information, Verizon for healthcare apps, Microsoft for infrastructure, and Amazon for e-commerce in healthcare. Bioengineering, implanted microchips, robotics, and speech recognition are just a few of the wonders of modern medicine. And even the consumer is on board: According to Forbes, consumer out-of-pocket spending on technologies related to health and wellness, i.e. Fitbit and other “wearables,”will grow by 60-70% this year.
Now, the second resolution: Make it simple. With hospitals that feel more like corporate headquarters rather than caring organizations, personalized options have become overwhelmingly impossible to find, much less navigate for patients and physicians alike. Why? Because no one is getting precisely what they need or want in an efficient manner. You wouldn’t be particularly happy if your waiter delivered extra sides of onion rings and curly fries (because that’s what most hungry people order) and be expected to pay for them when all you wanted was a salad.
Further, the secret to simplicity is already here: Today’s cutting-edge technologies and devices have become the primary drivers of keeping the patient in the center of healthcare delivery. So the way we look at it is, simplicity breeds convenience. And convenience breeds peace of mind, the #1 want from any healthcare brand.
So, while the end of an era produces feelings of cynicism and distrust, a fresh era comes with new beginnings and a sense of hope. Look ahead and you can see the changing landscape in healthcare happening in the background. Care is now available at more places than just your physician’s office or a hospital. Private ambulatory centers, concierge physicians, home diagnostics, and telemedicine are just of the few new channels available today. Dan Goldberg explains in his article “The Urgent-care Boom,” that pharmacies such as CVS and Walmart are stepping in with “retail clinics,” offering the chance to diagnose, treat, prescribe, and pick up all in one location. And new, unaffiliated Urgent Care clinics (CityMD, Cure Urgent Care, QualityFirst) are “popping up at a rate New Yorkers usually associate with a Starbucks rather than health businesses.” Skinny latte anyone?
Our ongoing research leads us to believe that the old era of the passive patient is over. Quality care, outcomes, and innovative treatments have become the cost of entry. And choice is the key differentiator. More than innovation and cost-reduction, the healthcare system will continue to evolve based on what sells and what doesn’t. In the new era of healthcare, self-reliant consumers will select their providers based on access, simplicity, and the ability to create their own experiences.