Why Customers Are Sick of Healthcare

ARLINGTON, VA. — What's the problem with consumers? They want everything. "They want to keep everyone alive as long as long as possible -- no matter what the quality of life is or the cost," said Jim Clifton, chief-executive-officer of Gallup, the research, polling, and management consulting organization. During a keynote presentation at the Consumer Health World conference here this week, Clifton continued, saying that it's impossible to truly listen to what the customer wants with healthcare because, for them, "Money is no object -- especially if it's not my money," he said. "If we have that belief, this country has no chance."

According to Clifton, the cost of healthcare in the United States is now $2.2 trillion. He said that at the rate it's going, in eight years, it will cost the country $4.5 trillion. Cost alone is reason the administration can't solely listen to customers when reforming healthcare. "What the consumer wants is a problem," Clifton said. "The consumer getting his wish will let the country go broke."

Based on this, Clifton said that leaders need to take control in terms of reforming healthcare. Leaders, he said, are capable of making decisions based on the future; whereas, followers only make decisions based on short-term gains. In a conversation with Andy Webber, the president and CEO of National Business Coalition on Health, he touched upon a sentiment similar Clifton's. Webber agreed that consumer entitlement is an issue -- and it's hard to change. He argued that this is due to a flawed delivery structure with healthcare. Basically, with healthcare consumers never make direct transactions and rarely see monetary value being exchanged for good and services.

"It's the classic middle-man syndrome," Webber said. "With insurance being the middle man." Perhaps an even bigger issue is that consumers don't understand the complexity with the healthcare system. Plus, "Physicians don't have the time to explain the healthcare complexity in a 10-minute visit," Webber said.

Both Webber and Clifton pointed to the fact that healthcare providers spend billions on the treatment of disease and illnesses, but in comparison, very little on prevention and wellness initiatives. This, according to Webber, promotes the wrong incentives to consumers. Clifton concurred, "Until we can move [the emphasis] to prevention, there's no way to fix people," he said. "We've got to have a system that forces people to think and act differently. If you think this is a leadership problem, then we have a chance."

Dr. Jonathan Perlin, chief medical officer and senior vice president of Quality, HCA, and another speaker on the panel, summed up the issues raised during the panel discussion.  "We have to acknowledge that the current system is failing," he said. "Not everyone enjoys the benefits possible. The information gaps results in amplified gaps. Decentralization exacerbates that further." He continued, "Incentives are volume based and offer little reward for information continuity."

So how can the healthcare industry reach out to consumers, educate them on the system, involve them in the conversation? Many support extending beyond traditional medical centers to get in touch with patients. In fact, a panel of healthcare experts spoke on that topic yesterday at the conference. The "Diversifying the Reach of Medical Care" discussion addressed both new methods to extend care for patients, but also cost-cutting initiatives.

"We are now in patient-centered care," said panelist Dr. Reed Tuckson, executive vice president and chief of medical affairs for UnitedHealth Group. Tuckson advocated using online tools to identify an individual's risk, emphasizing the themes of "empowerment and activation" to get the individual involved. "Some of that means extending care beyond the traditional arenas," he said. "We have to talk about access."

Healthcare 2.0 -- or 3.0, depending on whom you ask -- now centers on Web-based portals, Tuckson said. "Finally, healthcare is entering the same world with Amazon.com and consumer sites," he added, noting that, even though there are varying levels of engagement, at least "healthcare is in the consumer era."

Webber's suggestion for reform revolves around a reshaping of the conversation between the healthcare system and the consumer. "The goal we should set is not the reform of the healthcare system, it's how do we improve the health of the American population," he said.

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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