A recent article in the Harvard Business Review titled “The Trouble with Treating Patients as Consumers”  caught my eye and spurred this conversation with David Rambie, a partner here at Buxton.

Why should patients be treated as consumers?

David: If you don’t treat patients as consumers, you’re saying they don’t have choices. Patients have been told by the healthcare industry to get a second opinion as long as I’ve been alive. That advice started consumerism [in healthcare]. If you don’t have a severe injury, you make the decisions. You’re going to choose someone good — and convenient.

Should healthcare providers encourage patients to shop for options?

David: Yes, that’s the key. And the providers shouldn’t expect people to conform to providers’ definition of convenience and stop there if patients don’t play along. If the healthcare system provides a nurses’ hotline, but patients continue to show up at clinics instead of calling the hotline first, the provider shouldn’t then determine that patients don’t deserve choices.

Just as retailers have, do healthcare systems need to take more cues from patients?

David: They need to realize patients are shopping around. Of course, due to various levels of healthcare insurance, there will always be a segment of patients who can’t make choices. But if my dentist suggests a root canal, I can check around for the best doctor to perform it. I can be responsible and have my records transferred. Patients now are not held captive and are smart enough to make choices.

Is that largely due to marketing?

David: Marketing plays a big part. The ability to get second opinions is part of the driving force.

And healthcare systems are realizing they can be more efficient in delivery of services?

David: If a patient can learn to go to a clinic instead of an ER for a minor service, it’s a faster, more efficient patient experience. People may not know what’s wrong, but they usually know the level of treatment they need.