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What is a Consumer-Centered Health System?

A Consumer-Centered Health System Story June 28, 2022

Think about a great customer experience you’ve had while shopping at a store or online. What about it stands out to you the most? Was it a helpful salesperson who went above and beyond? Or a well-designed, user-friendly website? Maybe it was personalized recommendations based on your previous purchases. What does all this have to do with healthcare? When it comes to a consumer-centered health system, it means a lot.

The healthcare system in the United States has historically been a fragmented industry, with different health services separated into silos that make it harder for people to navigate. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted just how frustrated consumers are by the healthcare system today. Global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company reported that 25% of people didn’t feel listened to or like their administrative needs were being met, such as scheduling appointments at convenient times. Twenty-five percent of people also felt frustrated by higher-than-expected healthcare costs.

In another survey, 84% of healthcare consumers under 40 said they were seeking the “most technologically advanced and electronically communicative medical organizations available for their healthcare needs.” That’s not surprising: Technology helps connect the dots to make healthcare more seamless and integrated, removing friction and frustration.

Consumers want and increasingly expect these easy experiences in their interactions, whether it’s with their bank, streaming service, or shopping sites. When it comes to healthcare, an intuitive consumer experience lets people focus on their health, rather than on navigating the system. A consumer-centered health system can enable that experience.

What Is a Consumer-Centered Health System?

A consumer-centered health system places people at the center and helps them care for their health in a way that best works for them. It connects a broad range of information to produce a comprehensive picture of health, allowing them to see the full view of their health rather than navigating through a disjointed system.

Shifting the focus to consumers and their needs — much like the retail industry — allows people to become more involved in their own healthcare. Bringing about such a shift requires healthcare leaders to be empathetic to people’s frustrations and acknowledge current challenges, including the high costs of care and the complexity of a siloed system.

What Is the Role of the Consumer in Healthcare?

With broad access to the internet and other technology, consumers can educate themselves on their own health conditions, becoming “specialists” on their symptoms. Pair that with the experience of living with their diagnoses and learning how their own bodies react to treatments, and people have become integral to their own healthcare process. They are getting more actively involved, from attending online and in-person support groups where they compare treatment regimens and share advice to using digital tools to help manage their health needs and communicate with their care providers. The healthcare community needs to enable and encourage those interactions.

Gone are the days when people depended only on their physicians to fix their ailments. Today many consumers want to partner with their doctors, specialists, and pharmacists, taking a more collaborative approach to find the best solutions to their own personal healthcare. And the healthcare industry is evolving as well, expanding the definition of healthcare to include all the drivers of whole health for every person — physical, behavioral, and social — and using the latest healthcare technology to ensure that providers have all the information they need to provide high-quality care.

Holistic Approach to Health: Designing an Easier, Consumer-Centered Experience

Across all functions of healthcare, improving outcomes will require uniting a fragmented system and removing the friction and frustrations that currently characterize the consumer experience. Those in the healthcare system need to lead with empathy, challenge biases, strive to understand others’ experiences, and accommodate varied perspectives.

In the same way that retailers have revolutionized the shopping and buying experience, healthcare should be just as easy and transparent. “We want to seamlessly integrate virtual and digital services into the overall service and care experience,” said Ashok Chennuru, global chief data and insights officer, Carelon Digital Platforms. “We’re putting our technology to use -- our digital and data assets -- to make the care experience and service experience seamless, integrated, and as simple as going to a leading online retailer to order what you need. Our view is that healthcare can and should have a similar seamless consumer experience.”

Thanks to the data revolution of the past three decades, healthcare companies can now build a consumer-centered health system, which includes:

  • Improving efficiency, using technology to make healthcare more seamless and integrated.
  • Designing a smoother consumer experience that gives people the data and tools they need to meet their whole health needs when, where, and how they want them met.
  • Harnessing data and technology to enable a holistic view, personalize healthcare, and empower people.
  • Using digital opportunities to coordinate care and personalize treatment and experiences, from home to clinic to hospital.
  • Validating each person’s point of view, acknowledging that they know their own history, preferences, and health needs best.

Seeing your doctor can be a time-consuming, expensive, and frustrating experience. It doesn't have to be, if the healthcare system works to make the experience better for everyone.

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