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May 2, 2019

When Consumerism and Healthcare Collide

As consumerism takes hold in healthcare, patient expectations for fast, convenient, and easy tools to take care of themselves are driving huge shifts in the industry. They are also creating an environment ripe for disruption.

Entrepreneurs have been eager to address the new patient-as-consumer’s desires for speed and convenience. Many of these ventures have been successful not only in finding loyal fans but also in raising hundreds of millions of dollars of venture capital.

In the rush to make healthcare more consumer-centric, it can be easy to underestimate the complexity of healthcare delivery. A recent New York Times article illuminates how a failure to adhere to medical standards and regulations can put patient health and even their lives in danger.

There’s a lot of pressure that comes from leading a fast-growing entrepreneurial company. When companies face that pressure, while also being in the position of making the clinical decisions that could slow that growth, there’s a non-trivial risk of making on-the-margin decisions in the direction of growth rather than patient safety.

Empowering patients to take control of their health is great. But, there’s a reason it takes years of study and practice to become a prescribing clinician. A patient who wants the ability to discreetly order medications for erectile dysfunction or low libido can’t be expected to fully understand the potential contraindications, side effects, and risks those meds might bring.

This is one more reason why health care systems MUST get into the convenience care game. It’s not unreasonable for patients to want care on their terms, but wouldn’t it be so much better if the care they got was from an organization with a well-established reputation for quality care, where they already have a relationship, that has their health history on file, and that the patient can follow up with if questions or problems arise?

So, how can healthcare systems best help their patients who want immediate and discreet access to care? With a smart telehealth strategy that includes non-video, asynchronous options to connect. Don’t make them chose between a consumer-friendly experience and a trusted clinical relationship.

Give patients a tool to engage in a consumer-centric way, the way they would through direct-to-consumer platforms like Ro, Nurx, or 98point6. Then tie that to the patient’s EMR for a complete view of their overall medical history. Use that comprehensive picture to make sure they get the right medication, referral, or treatment plan. Everyone is happy and the patient knows the prescription and treatment they receive are safe.

When patients use their established healthcare provider to seek convenience care, they also ensure the continuum of their care is secure. At any established health system, a provider who hands out returned samples of medication, or flouts medical care standards to give patients contraindicated medications will get fired. An established patient who shows up in the ER for a blood clot due to birth control she got through a third party that wasn’t right for her has no record in her EMR of that medication. If she’s unconscious, she can’t tell doctors what she’s on. If her healthcare provider offered an easy, online way for her to get birth control, she stands a better chance of avoiding medications that could lead to blood clots. If she did end up needing emergency care, her EMR would reflect all of her medications.

Patients want convenience care. You can’t blame enterprising companies for finding ways to address that want, or patients for choosing to access care in a convenient, consumer-friendly way. But you can’t cut corners in healthcare delivery—too much is at stake. Providers may not like to think of it this way, but the fact is that patients are also “healthcare consumers.” For the well-being of the patients we care for, health care systems have to meet both sets of needs—clinical and consumer.

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