3 Myths about Healthcare Consumerism — and How to Overcome Them

             Patient:  a person receiving care or treatment, especially from a doctor

             Consumer: a person who buys goods or services for personal use

With the 2010s now more than half over, there’s no escaping the fact that the two cohorts above are increasingly one and the same. And nowhere is that more true than in aesthetic medicine. Faced with multiple options and paying out of pocket, people considering elective cosmetic procedures truly are healthcare consumers.

Unfortunately, some providers — both in and outside of aesthetic disciplines — have been slow to adapt to the change. They still balk at the concept of the patient as a consumer because they believe that healthcare is fundamentally different from other industries. They fail to realize that potential patients do, indeed, shop around, conducting research, comparing their options and seeking advice from others before making a final decision.

As a result, such providers are prone to what researchers at McKinsey & Company refer to as common myths about healthcare consumerism. In a recent paper, they looked at several of them, three of which clearly apply to the practice of aesthetic medicine:

Myth #1: Consumers don’t bring the same expectations about customer experience to healthcare that they bring to retail or technology companies.

As part of McKinsey’s latest Consumer Health Insights survey, the company asked participants to identify the non-healthcare companies with the strongest consumer focus, what qualities gave such companies a strong customer focus and what they valued in a consumer-focused healthcare company.

Their answers showed surprising parallels, with 53% of respondents saying ‘providing great customer service’ for both healthcare and non-healthcare companies. Other qualities that the participants identified as important for both sets of companies were delivering on expectations, making life easier, and offering great value.

What it means for doctors: Customer expectations are being set by non-healthcare industries. As a result, doctors who hope to succeed in the years to come will need to meet similar customer expectations if they want to ensure satisfaction and long-term loyalty.

Myth #2: Consumers know what they want from healthcare companies and what drives their decisions.

While most consumers have strong opinions about what matters to them when they make healthcare decisions, the evidence suggests that there is often a disconnect between what they believe matters most and what influences their opinions most strongly.

To test their hypothesis, researchers asked patients who had been hospitalized within the previous three years how satisfied they were with their experience and what factors might have influenced their satisfaction level.

They found that more than 90% said they had been at least somewhat satisfied with the care they received, with most rating the outcome achieved as the most important influence on their satisfaction. That, no doubt, is as it should be.

However, when the researchers mapped the specific factors that participants said influenced their satisfaction against their reported levels of satisfaction, they found that the empathy and support provided by health professionals had an even stronger impact than outcomes did.

What it means for doctors: While patients consider good outcomes a top priority, they actually base their level of satisfaction on factors that have more to with traditional customer-service experiences than the medical care received.

Myth #3: Only young people are using technology to manage their health and healthcare needs.

Most healthcare providers recognize that they have to embrace new ways of communicating with Millennial patients (those ages 18–34) but too many make the mistake of assuming older patients eschew technology. While Millennials may be more tightly tied to their mobile devices and social networks, the research shows that healthcare consumers of all ages rely on technology to manage their health and healthcare needs.

Chief among their activities: communicating with doctors and scheduling appointments. In fact, when researchers asked if they thought websites and apps were more or less effective than phone or in-person communication for those activities, the majority of participants age 65 and older (65% and 78%, respectively) thought that websites and apps were more effective.

What it means for doctors: Aesthetic professionals who don’t embrace new ways of communicating with patients run the risk of missing out on opportunities to connect with potential healthcare consumers of every age.

Put the above trends together and the true takeaway is inescapable: As potential patients get more access to more information, they’ll become more empowered to determine who they’ll turn to for their care. Doctors who resist the trends — e.g., by falling for the myths of healthcare consumerism — will be left behind while those who embrace them will be well-positioned for the 2010s, 2020s and beyond.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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