Healthcare Consumerism: Where We Are and Where We Need to Grow - Cover

Healthcare Consumerism: Where We Are and Where We Need to Grow

In almost every other industry, from online shopping to travel, the focus has always been on giving consumers a better experience. But in the healthcare market where consumerism has sometimes seemed like more of a burden than an innovation, consumerism is starting to make an impact in never-before-seen ways. I recently spoke with Clare Truckenbrod, a healthcare investment banker at TripleTree, to learn more deeply about the recent trends and the work that needs to be done to help patients as consumers.

Sharlin: Before we dive in, tell our readers about yourself, your background, and your passion for healthcare. 

Clare: The first 10 years of my career I spent in medical technology, or the device-based landscape. From there, I have focused on healthcare IT for the past three years. As a healthcare investment banker, I focus on M&A exclusively in healthcare. Within the TripleTree advisory practice, I spend a lot of my time focusing on provider IT and technology-enabled solutions, including SaaS, workflow solutions, revenue cycle management (RCM), virtual health, and any type of communication or EHR platform. I like anything that can make the patient journey more accessible and efficient. I am passionate about healthcare because I’ve experienced how technology innovation can improve the lives of all individuals at a very personal level.

Sharlin: What is consumerism? What impact is consumerism having on healthcare currently, and what do we expect to see in the coming years?

Clare: At its baseline, consumerism is the influence people have on their surroundings. More importantly, I’d describe healthcare consumerism as the confluence of patients becoming more vocal about their expectations and making decisions based on their needs and the needs of their family. Often when we think about healthcare consumerism at TripleTree, we're articulating the day-in and day-out needs of consumers from a healthcare perspective and how applications or technology can work within peoples’ lives to make sure that they get the access and the outcomes they are seeking.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and the macrodynamics we've been living in, patients have become more verbal about their expectations of providers, plans, and healthcare tools to guide their continuum of care. They’re demanding to see change, or they are trying something different. At TripleTree, we’ve observed that patients’ brand loyalty is down, and their willingness to try out new services is up. We've never seen that before.

Ten years ago, people selected a primary care provider and used that same provider for their children from ages 0–18. But now if that provider has doesn't have things like flexible hours, a good scheduling app, or an easy way to get updated forms, consumers are very quick to find something else that better suits their needs. That accelerated movement and ability to flex is a direct result of the rapid technology innovation we’ve seen in the last few years.

Ultimately, the industry has been ripe and waiting for changes. Companies had been well on their way to innovating, but adoption had been slow. COVID-19 has changed the status quo. Looking forward, we expect to see a continued focus on the patient and the patient experience within the context of tech-enabled solutions.

Sharlin: What is the current state of healthcare organizations' efforts to move beyond quality care and provide a great patient experience overall?

Clare: For the last two decades, people have focused on improving the quality of care. Every single metric and internal incentive program has been focused on that goal. At this point, we’re seeing that patient experience is now equally as important as quality of care. In fact, we're so focused on patient experience that some people think that quality of care has gone to the wayside, and that is absolutely not true. It’s more that both objectives are finally equally in line.

Consumers' number one complaint for a long time has been that, of course, providers should provide quality care. But that’s just the minimum. Now consumers need more; clinicians should have bedside manners and communication skills. My provider should be able to send me an explanation of benefits that make sense if I call to ask.

This focus actually started from within the healthcare organizations themselves. They're hiring leaders at the top that focus on patient experience. They're aligning incentives on patient experience. You see organizations reporting on it regularly at the hospital level. You also see it in healthcare IT companies. Many of these companies’ platforms or workflows are now designed with the patient experience in mind.

Sharlin: Where are we seeing innovations and advancements for patients? What areas are ripe for change?

Clare: The most obvious answer is telehealth; everyone has been talking about that one. But more interestingly, we have seen advances in general communication and patient access. We have done a lot of research on this at TripleTree for our virtual health report. We found that previously, providers were not willing to try innovative communications tools, such as sending texts to patients with children’s lab results or even leaving content-rich voicemails. Even dynamic chatbots using AI were not something that providers contemplated. Yet, all these examples are now relevant tools to help providers get patients the information they need very quickly.

So we’ve seen all this innovation in communication and patient access, but what about the next steps? Everything surrounding price transparency and patient finance is ripe for change. Once a patient determines the correct treatment of care, how is that cost of care accurately estimated? What are the financing options, and the bill pay options? What is the cost breakdown, and how do patients ensure that their insurance can cover it? The number one story you always hear in patient surveys is that the clinic said their procedure was covered, but then the consumer got a bill for $3,000 that they needed to pay out of pocket first. All those pieces on the back end are just completely primed for change.

Sharlin: Which aspects of a patient's healthcare journey currently hold the most pain points for patients? 

Clare: Patient access, or finding the right treatment of care, continues to be a major pain point in the journey. Studies show that patients need an average of two and a half appointments to get to the right care provider. As we’ve touched on, the consumerized nature of healthcare information and technology will help break down the barriers for patients to get the treatments they need.

Second is probably understanding what the real cost of care looks like for the patient. We spend a lot of time focusing on billing and collections technologies. But what if we were able to provide the accurate out-of-pocket cost estimates to patients well in advance of procedures?  Data in a more consumerized format can lead to more informed patient decision-making.

When we talk with clients that work in data analytics and aggregation, we’re hearing that they’re at a point where they can mine the data using AI and create notifications and predictive monitoring. There are companies sprouting up that are selling the notifications. We also hear that they are finally able to take the data and create patterns and push the information back into the hospitals. Those are important developments.

But the next steps are figuring out how to get the information back to the health plans and then to patients. We know that plans have the data at an aggregate level, but when the patient calls to ask for estimates, those barriers are still there. So we're getting there with mining the data, but now we need to put it to use.

Sharlin: How is technology impacting healthcare consumerism? And which healthcare IT market segments have a lot of energy and investment surrounding the patient experience? 

Clare: The rapid advancement of patient-facing technology has shifted the balance so that the power is more in the hands of the consumers. They immediately send feedback on what they do or do not like and on the usability of the technology. That’s immediately been seen with the telehealth platforms out there. For example, patients wanted to be able to have a parent dial in to their telehealth appointment, so there needed to be a way to send a secure link to a family member.

Sharlin: We’re excited to have TripleTree as a sponsor for KLAS’ annual DHIS event. What does DHIS mean for providers, vendors, and investors in the healthcare IT world? And how is it different from other conferences?

Clare: DHIS presents a unique opportunity for providers, the companies that serve them, and the investment community to come together in a way you don't often see. It's also a fairly intimate, curated group. Then you add in the focus on the digital health environment and investments. I'm very passionate about focused conferences because they lead to highly productive conversations. That's where you really see a lot of good quality output from an event.

There are so many companies in this digital health space, and virtually every provider and health system is trying to figure out how to better address the needs of the consumer. So this event is also really timely.

Photo credit: Gorodenkoff, Adobe Stock