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The Transition from Patient to Healthcare Consumer

Patients today approach healthcare in the same way they approach major purchases. They conduct research, read reviews, and search for the best price. Gone are the days when patients simply took their primary care physicians’ advice and referrals with no questions asked. Now they seek second and third opinions, and ask friends and family members for referrals on social networks.

The transition from patient to healthcare consumer is upon us. Here are a few catalysts contributing to this evolution:

  1. High-deductible health insurance plans
    More and more people are opting for high-deductible health insurance plans to decrease their monthly premiums. Because this audience must pay for healthcare costs out of pocket (or through their HSA accounts), they are making their healthcare decisions very carefully to ensure they stretch their dollars. These patients aren’t necessarily searching for state-of-the-art facilities, but rather a physician with whom they can build a relationship.
  2. Physician review sites
    Healthcare consumers may ask their primary care physicians for a referral to a specialist, but they aren’t taking those referrals blindly. And fewer and fewer consumers need approval from their HMO to see a specialist. Consumers conduct research on a physician’s educational background, work history, and bedside manner. Most of these searches bring patients to one or more physician review sites, which, as with most product reviews, aren’t completely reliable. Put another way, Trip Advisor is a useful part of choosing a hotel, but it is only one part. Either way, a review site may provide a prospective patient’s first impression of a practice.
  3. Telemedicine and on-demand healthcare
    Consumers today have gotten used to doing things on their own time, unrestricted by the business hours of 9 to 5. We can buy things online, conduct banking on our mobile phones, and now, see a physician in our pharmacies – live or via a computer screen. Healthcare consumers crave convenience, and they have these other options at hand if your practice can’t meet their needs.

Some of these changes are due to generational differences, but as did the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials are now making healthcare decisions for their parents. And that presents opportunities for hospitals and physician practices. Both must make marketing decisions that appeal to this audience by focusing on personal care, managing first impressions, and improving access to and the quality of care.