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by Zane Burke
Published on February 13, 2017

This article originally appeared on Healthcare IT News and is part one of a four-part series that will be published throughout the week.

Our industry is diligently working to understand and address the evolution of the health care consumer. However, it is still a reactive response. Instead, we need to proactively and strategically prepare for and manage the evolution.

Consumer behavior has dramatically changed with the introduction of digital and mobile mediums. This is a change that has affected many industries and, while healthcare has been slower to adapt than others, we're now shifting our focus to embrace consumerism.

Traditionally, healthcare has relied on connections among healthcare providers, payers, pharmaceutical or medical device companies and other auxiliary players, while still requiring the patient to manage their own care. The fragmentation of care caused by this delivery model has led to high-cost treatment rather than the prevention of disease through systematic, patient-specific interventions.

Legislation such as the Affordable Care and HITECH acts, as well as MACRA and increasing global sensitivities to a fragmented healthcare culture, have contributed to the shift toward value-based, consumer-focused care.

Under these initiatives, the healthcare industry has officially shifted focus to the patient while establishing a coordinated, cohesive effort among all health industry players to deliver more effective and efficient care. This model also transfers some responsibility of healthcare back to the patient, enabling them to make decisions for their own healthcare across various touchpoints. The high-level motivation behind granting patients access to their health information is the idea that involving them will make them more aware of their health risks and enable them to become more invested in improving their health.

Projections of global healthcare spend based off historical and current trends indicate an increase from 6 percent of a country's GDP to almost 9 percent in 2030 and even 14 percent by 2060. The industry can't sustain that forecast, and providers, vendors and payers alike are being forced to find new ways to manage cost and mitigate risk.

Our industry is diligently working to understand and address the evolution of the healthcare consumer. However, it is still a reactive response. Instead, we need to proactively and strategically prepare for and manage the evolution.

The proliferation of smart devices, apps and wearables have the potential to empower individuals to manage their health before intervention is needed. Looking at the demographics of the U.S. market today, millennials have surpassed baby boomers as the nation's largest living generation, making up nearly a quarter of the U.S. population.

Millennials are also changing their healthcare consumption habits: 41 percent said they view a doctor as the best source of health information, compared with 68 percent of respondents from other generations, according to a new survey by GHG/Greyhealth Group and Kantar Health. This generation has an appetite for digital resources and consumer-oriented apps that connect their transactions to their personal health journey in real-time.

While nearly the entire acute care market is live on an electronic health record system, government entities are also investing in digital records and contributing to the advancement of the consumer-oriented healthcare industry. The U.S. Department of Defense selected Cerner's EHR to connect the health information of servicemembers across the world. This relationship will help Cerner enhance our offering for global consumers and identify opportunities to enhance data exchange among devices that undergo intermittent periods of connectivity.

Health systems are augmenting their strategies, too. Many are opening retail clinics in local community centers, building micro-hospitals and additional outpatient centers or incorporating new service lines heavily predicated on community involvement like sports medicine outreach.

As payment reform places a greater emphasis on patient satisfaction and value-based outcomes, many healthcare systems have reacted by adding C-suite executives who are solely focused on the patient experience. The emerging roles in health systems covering this important topic — Chief Patient Officer, Chief Experience Officer, Chief Strategy Officer are charged to better connect with their patient populations by adopting best practices from other consumer-facing sectors like electronics and the hospitality industry.

We're seeing major consumer companies such as Apple, Google and Amazon investing in healthcare, national shopping chains opening retail clinics, health systems opening grocery stores and pharmaceutical companies developing apps for patients to track symptoms and improve compliance. These are just a few of the marketplace innovations and evolutions established as a result of this great consumer behavior shift.

We're still at the forefront of healthcare's consumer evolution. To address our evolving regulatory environment, changing patient expectations and the onset of value-based care, health systems need to continue to adapt and engage with their patients as consumers and understand that consumers in this space will be empowered to dictate what constitutes as value going forward.

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