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Consumer Revolution, Evolution, or Devolution?

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, March 12, 2008
Every week, it seems, I read a different prediction about consumer-driven healthcare. It's already here. It'll be here any minute now. It's on the horizon. It's on the distant horizon. It's a passing fad. It's a bunch of hooey. The truth, I suspect, lies somewhere in between "already here" and "hooey."

I can't help but look at the issue as a consumer--one who takes the time to research providers and medical conditions online, who is willing to pay more for better quality care, who isn't afraid to fire a provider if he or she doesn't meet my expectations and who will tell everyone within earshot about negative or positive experiences at the local hospital, including my primary care physician. But I'm just one person. And for some strange reason the pundits aren't basing their predictions solely on me.

One of the latest predictions about the consumer revolution comes from Don Seymour, president of Don Seymour and Associates in Winchester, MA. "The transition to consumer-driven healthcare will be evolutionary, not revolutionary, and cost, not quality, has been the driver to date," he writes in the introduction to Futurescan 2008, an annual report from the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD) on a wide range of healthcare trends and their implications for strategic marketers, planners, and senior leaders.

If you look at more than a decade of these reports, Seymour writes, there is a clear, overarching message to the nation's hospitals: "Take care of more people who have growing expectations and more complex medical needs while providing increasingly sophisticated care with relatively fewer resources."

But, he adds, "lest consumerism become to the 2000s what capitation was to the 1990s--overhyped and precipitously reacted to--Futurescan readers are advised to proceed with a dose of caution." Among the data he points to: Out-of-pocket costs are relatively low, employer interest in consumer-driven products remains low, and decision-support for consumers is limited.

"Although the Internet is an important source of health information, barriers to its use include a lack of standardized performance measures, a lack of comprehensive information, and inconsistent information," he writes.

And that's where he loses me.

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