Why Shopping for Healthcare Should Be More Like Shopping for Sunscreen

By: Jason Lee, vice president, Revenue Excellence


Learn more about current trends in consumer shopping for healthcare services and how e-commerce has given rise to the power of reviews to influence purchasers.

Consumers have come to expect a lot of information when making purchases—big or small. Healthcare companies should take notice.

Whether it’s shopping for sunscreen or buying a car, consumers have almost unlimited information at their fingertips to help guide their purchasing decisions. In my case, I was able to compare sunscreen options by brand, SPF, peer reviews, dermatologists’ recommendations, price, and even scent! Now think about the information available to you when you need a hip replacement or when your child breaks their arm. If you’re like me, it’s frustrating that there isn’t nearly the transparency for these major transactions that affect not only one’s wallet but also one’s health.

This is changing, however. Consumers, accustomed to Amazon and Google, are insisting on more information, transparency, and accessibility. Now there is a new, urgent focus in healthcare on the patient experience to provide more and better information that is simplified, accessible, and provides transparency. Our internet-empowered consumer habits aren’t just driving this new focus; we also have more skin in the game.

Need to know: Price transparency

There is an ongoing shift happening. Financial responsibility is increasingly moving from the payer (the insurer) to the patient in the form of higher deductibles and higher premiums. According to an analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American is now paying $5,000 out of pocket on healthcare per year. As patients are required to pay an increasing portion of their care, they’re looking to be a more active and informed consumer. They want to know how much things will cost, and they want to know what type of service they’ll receive. Most importantly, they want to have visibility into the quality of care.

An epidemic of debt

The next trend driving a new consumerism in healthcare is medical debt. The epidemic of medical debt is incredible right now. A study published last month in JAMA found that collection agencies held $140 billion in healthcare debt in 2020. And that doesn’t even count the money that hasn’t gone into collection yet. There are not enough John Olivers out there to dig our way out of this without making fundamental changes. We’ve seen some new regulations and legislation around price transparency and surprise billing. I believe we are only beginning this journey, and more regulation is on the way.

Better information throughout the patient journey

So, what can we do to provide a better patient experience? From my perspective, it all starts with education and simplification. The patient journey has become far too complex and nontransparent. It’s too hard to understand what’s going to happen, how long it will take, how much you’re going to owe, and what the result will be. We need to help patients better understand what’s going to happen in their care journey.

Another thing we need to do is help patients understand their options for paying for or financing their care, so they can plan ahead. Often, the patient just receives a bill with little or no warning, sometimes for thousands of dollars. If we could provide more visibility into what they’re likely to have to pay, providing payment options ahead of time (rather than two months after a procedure) will help patients better prepare financially and emotionally. It also increases the likelihood they’ll be in a stronger emotional and physical state to help their recovery.

The other thing I think is going to be important is technology and greater data availability. We should make the process more frictionless.

Meeting the patient online, on the phone, in person

Technology enables us to surface, analyze, and present critical data to patients. But it’s important that we don’t see data as a be-all, end-all solution. Many patients will want information delivered via an app, website, or some other digital tool.

However, a large portion of the population will still want to share that in a conversation rather than read it in an app. Those patients will also have greater trust in person-to-person interaction rather than through a screen. So, while technology powers an improved patient experience behind the scenes, we need to meet the patients where they are.

Personalizing care communications

Personalizing communications before, during, and after care is key. So, sending information to patients in the way they want to receive it—whether by paper, email, text, or phone call—will help them be more receptive and more likely to act if they get the information on a platform they are comfortable with. And all the information they need to maintain or improve their health should be easily accessible.

Along the same lines, simplifying billing is also essential: designing statements and communications that make it easier to understand what a bill is for, what is owed, and when it’s due. It’s amazing how often I receive a bill from a doctor that requires me to spend a pretty good chunk of time trying to understand what it’s for and why I’m paying this much money. And I think I’m probably not the only one.

Follow-up information

I believe the days are past when we can expect patients, in the middle of what’s already a stressful situation at the doctor’s office or hospital, to remember the flood of information coming at them amid their busy lives. We should not expect patients to summarize what steps they should take to maintain or improve their health, including what referrals might be required or the prescribed medications or treatment.

Improving the patient journey by focusing on the patient 

Using technology—specifically data and predictive analytics, coupled with personalized engagement tools—can transform the patient experience during the whole journey through “the system.” Consumers are asking for better information, more choice, and more transparency. Legislators and regulators are starting to demand it. We have the opportunity to deliver it, together, to improve the healthcare experience for everyone.

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