Patient Engagement

Drilling down into the motivations behind consumer healthcare decisions

“Part of it is a lack of understanding as an industry with respect to what consumers really want,” said Kirk Pion, vice president and “innovation champion” at UnitedHealthcare.

From left: Chris Seper of EW Scripps, Katie Ruigh of AmericanWell, Kirk Pion of UnitedHealthcare, Rebecca Palm of Copatient and David Vivero of Amino.

From left: Chris Seper of EW Scripps, Katie Ruigh of AmericanWell, Kirk Pion of UnitedHealthcare, Rebecca Palm of Copatient and David Vivero of Amino

How the average person accesses healthcare services is changing rapidly, thanks to things like wearable devices and public health exchanges where people purchase insurance coverage independent of larger health plans. But as for how the average person is making their decisions when it comes to health coverage? Uh, check back in another five years.

“We don’t really know to some degree how consumers make decisions in healthcare,” said Kirk Pion, vice president and “innovation champion” at UnitedHealthcare.

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A specialty drug is a class of prescription medications used to treat complex, chronic or rare medical conditions. Although this classification was originally intended to define the treatment of rare, also termed “orphan” diseases, affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the US, more recently, specialty drugs have emerged as the cornerstone of treatment for chronic and complex diseases such as cancer, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

Pion shared those thoughts as part of a panel discussion during the MedCity CONVERGE conference in Philadelphia this week. The topic: What makes healthcare consumers more savvy and better informed customers? Even as direct-to-consumer healthcare becomes more prevalent, the answer to that question seems to be elusive.

“Part of it is a lack of understanding as an industry with respect to what consumers really want,” Pion said.

For too long, it seems, the healthcare industry has assumed that potential patients are obsessed with one metric—how much a particular service costs. But the fee-for-service model is decades old, and “consumers are capable of making much more complex decisions,” said Rebecca Palm, co-founder and chief strategy officer of medical billing service Copatient.

Indeed, healthcare consumers are already evaluating their potential medical care based on more than just an estimated price, as David Vivero, CEO and co-founder of health IT startup Amino, pointed out. “No decision is just that linear,” he said. “It’s about a whole set of nuances: cost, quality, convenience.”

So what, then, makes a savvy healthcare consumer? Someone who can get the information they need when it matters most to them. In other words, when they’re at the health provider’s office. That’s a situation that’s still a ways off, Pion said, although he offered a window into that future: an Amazon Echo device at the doctor’s office that a patient could consult to figure out what healthcare services are covered by their current health plan.

But consumers already have something available to them at the doctor’s office that can get them that information—their smartphones. Three-quarters of people get health information through their smartphones, according to Katie Ruigh, senior vice president of product management at American Well, which offers a video-based telemedicine service to connect doctors and patients. The trick is to determine what healthcare information consumers really need access to. The connectivity piece—their phone—to that information is already in place.

“What matters most in any industry is not what people say,” said Vivero. “It’s what people do.”

People, right now, open their smartphones at their healthcare providers. Making them savvier customers is just a matter of what they end up seeing on their screens.

Photo: Meghan Uno/Breaking Media