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How Real is Healthcare Consumerism?

News  |  By Gregory A. Freeman  
   April 04, 2016

Consumers are twice as likely to select a specialist, such as an OB-GYN or an orthopedic surgeon, when they have access to three objective metrics about that specialist—experience, hospital quality, and patient satisfaction, according to the Healthgrades research. In primary care, however, consumers are just 1.26 times more likely to choose a doctor when they can access that data. Additionally, when presented with information about physician experience and related hospital quality, 85% would select a different doctor than the one they chose before getting that information.

That may be because consumers see so little transparency that when they do, the very fact that they have access to information works to the benefit of that healthcare provider. Patients at times struggle to understand their healthcare choices because the healthcare industry is still mostly opaque, says Roger C. Holstein, who spoke to HealthLeaders for this article as CEO of Healthgrades. He has since become vice chairman of Healthgrades' board of directors and has returned to Vestar Capital Partners as managing director.

Some large health systems are responding rapidly to the need for more transparency and recognizing that embracing transparency as a core principle can differentiate them from competitors, he says. "The health systems rapidly adopting transparency are reaping the benefits because consumers are more likely to trust those who expose more content than those who don't."

Trust is the touchstone of consumerism and the way healthcare organizations respond to it, says Mark P. Herzog, FACHE, president and CEO of Holy Family Memorial in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. With high deductibles putting more of their own money on the line, patients are looking for data and healthcare professionals they can trust to provide the most cost-effective care. The 62-staffed-bed general medical and surgical hospital, along with its network of clinics, pharmacies, and other facilities, has more experience than most in dealing with high deductibles, Herzog says, in part because the Manitowoc community has many family-owned businesses and they have been more innovative in designing their health plans than larger employers.

Related: How Real is Healthcare Consumerism?

"We've been in a high-deductible market since 2008, so we are much further along in learning what that means for us and for patients," he says. "Ninety percent or more of our insured population has a high-deductible plan. The typical family deductible in our market is about $8,000, and we have more than a handful of $14,000 deductibles in our community."

Those figures prompted Holy Family Memorial to address consumerism earlier than most hospitals. One of the first signs of the high-deductible impact was suppressed utilization of healthcare—some appropriate, but much of it may be inappropriate, Herzog says.

Gregory A. Freeman is a contributing writer for HealthLeaders.

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