For decades, the healthcare industry catered to a very homogenous type of customer: the patient.

Especially in the past 50 years, patients found their way into the doctor’s office, waited patiently (like a good patient should) in a waiting room with other patients until the doctor was available to see them. This followed another series of steps before the patient was permitted to go on with their day.

If Walt Disney had had this vision of a customer experience, there would be no Disney World. But then again, Disney is in the business of making people forget about their real lives, whereas doctors are in the more serious business of making and keeping you healthy.

The Advent of the Modern Healthcare Consumer

With the shift in consumer behavior since the mid 1990s — mostly spurred by technology advances and the internet — a new type of patient emerged: the savvy healthcare consumer.

By our modern understanding, a savvy consumer is one that consciously shops for the best products and services – comparing prices and value, asking friends and family, and succumbing to clever marketing.

With the rise in healthcare cost and an increase first in co-pays and later in out-of-pocket deductibles, consumers became much more cost conscious. The first decade of the new millennium soon introduced a new type of healthcare services: retail clinics embedded in grocery stores and drugstores. Those “Express Care” and “MinuteClinic®” offerings were created in response to an increasing demand by healthcare consumers for more convenience.

Modern Healthcare Consumers are now more prepared than ever and are no longer willing to simply defer to the doctors’ expertise. Armed with knowledge from online forums, books, and self-help sites (a.k.a., “Dr. Google”) some now march into the physicians office ordering the doctor to do what they think is the best approach to them.

Shift Happens

So how did we get here?

There are three key shifts that occurred first in the mid 1990s in finance and banking, then about 20 years ago in commerce and about 15 years ago in communication.

In the finance sector, traditional banking services were started to be replaced by online services — from managing your checking and savings accounts to electronic bill pay to online brokerages allowing private citizens to do their own stock trading.

In the commerce sector, the dot-com boom created a whole new set of conveniences for the modern consumer. While the initial dot-com bubble quickly burst, the concepts and principles survived over time. And modern commerce was not limited to online shopping but quickly expanded over time into the travel industry (Expedia, Kayak), lodging (AirBnB, VRBO) and transportation (Uber, Lyft).

With the introduction of the iPhone following the trails blazed by Blackberry, the way we communicate changed equally dramatically. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat offered new ways to stay in touch with your tribes; Multimedia texting, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp created new ways of instant asynchronous communication and Facetime and Skype opened the door to video-augmented conversations.

So it’s no surprise that after consumers experienced this level of convenience (24×7 access to banking, commerce) and personalization (multichannel communication) they started to expect and demand the same level of sophistication from their healthcare providers.

The Desires of the Modern Healthcare Consumer

In order to understand the various motivating factors that drive healthcare consumer behavior, it is necessary to understand the extrinsic and intrinsic desires that healthcare consumers have: Confidence, Quality, Value, and Convenience.

While most healthcare consumers these days are going straight to “Convenience” the other three desires are almost equally present.

The desire for confidence is rooted in the fact that most of healthcare requires a certain level of trust. Most people do not actively seek out non-licensed medical care unless they have maybe developed a mistrust in the current system. This level of confidence is closely paired with the desire for quality, whereas the desire for quality is of course proportional with the severity of the illness or complexity of the treatment.

As depicted below, Academic Medical Centers have long operated in this sweet spot of Confidence and Quality. They may not be easy to get to (think: Mayo Clinic in icy Minnesota) and definitely will not be the cheapest, but their reputation and documented outcomes make this the right choice.

At the intersection of Confidence and Value (or sometimes Confidence and Convenience) lies the in-network Primary Care Provider: little to no out of pocket costs for preventive care, someone you generally trust, though you cannot easily ascertain and shop for “Quality”. Also making an appointment even with your own PCP can take a long time, so it may not be very convenient.

At the extended spectrum of primary care is Concierge Medicine, now at the triple intersection of Confidence, Quality and Convenience. A concierge physician usually has a stellar reputation within the community backed up by good outcomes, yet is conveniently accessible almost 24 x 7 and with very little wait time.

On the opposite side, we find Retail Clinics and Online Clinics. Highly convenient, oftentimes a good value, though it’s hard to assess confidence or even the quality of outcomes.

Catering to the Modern Healthcare Consumer

The Future Leaders in healthcare will be those that address all four desires of the Modern Healthcare Consumer. New types of clinics that offer virtual first, technology-enabled care such as Carbon Health, One Medical and Forward Health are clearly setting the bar of convenience, value, confidence and quality high.

Likewise, the academic medical center juggernauts are continuing to find their way into marrying digital health innovation with their established, conservative care delivery model and, after bringing in some new leaders, some may finally be stepping into this new world.

For the longest time, healthcare has held this bizarre paternalistic position that its customers must succumb to the processes that they prescribe. And while many care providers have long held regional monopolies, the widespread embrace of telehealth as a viable alternative to the arduous in person care is dismantling those monopolies. And before long more modern healthcare consumers (like yours truly) will “fire their doctor” — because, now, we can.

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Christian Milaster and his team optimize Telehealth Services for health systems and physician practices. Christian is the Founder and President of Ingenium Digital Health Advisors where he and his expert consortium partner with healthcare leaders to enable the delivery of extraordinary care.

Contact Christian by phone or text at 657-464-3648, via email, or video chat.