There is no doubt that the ease of access to information on the Internet, the legislative climate of the past decade, and the rising cost of health care has spurred a movement of consumerism in the patient care system. There is a clear lack of trust in the U.S. health care system that is adding fuel to the consumerism fire. According to a Gallup poll, the overall average of Americans with a high confidence level in 14 different U.S. institutions is below 35 percent for the fifth year in a row. The confidence level in the medical system is at 39 percent, while only nine percent of people stated the had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress.
Americans do what comes natural when they have low trust levels; turn to the Internet! Scores of medical websites (of widely ranging reliability) tell you what condition you might have and how to treat it. Medical forums run rampant with non qualified individuals dishing out medical advice. People turn to social media groups that exist solely for asking other members what they think you might have and how you should treat it. These tools are not inherently bad, but we must remember that they are just that...tools. Used in conjunction with the health care system, these tools can help you have better dialog with your doctor.
Doctors do not get the amount of face time with patients as they did before. On average, office visits are limited to an average of 17 minutes. In his book “Time to Heal”, Kenneth M. Ludmerer, M.D., writes:
“Perhaps the most extraordinary development in medical practice during the age of managed care was that time, in the name of efficiency, was being squeezed out of the doctor-patient relationship. Managed care organizations, with their insistence on maximizing “throughput,” were forcing physicians to churn through patients in assembly line fashion at ever-accelerating rates of speed….By the late 1990s, the pressure on doctors to see more patients in less time showed no signs of abating, and many doctors were staggering under the load.”
Doctors know that patient education is important, but they do not have the ability to take the time to provide the level of education necessary. Thus, many doctors have turned to these tools as a resource for this vital patient education. However, this has not come without its challenges. Patients walk into appointments with a preconceived notion of their diagnosis and course of treatment and, therefore, may be resistant to a doctor that might agree with the diagnosis but recommend a different treatment.
Patients are also overwhelmed by the complexity of navigating the health care system. This frustration has led to patient advocacy services and cost transparency tools, further advancing consumerism in health care. Many insurance companies have implemented an advocacy program for its members providing assistance with finding a quality doctor for your ailment that participates with your insurance plan. The new wave in consumerism is cost transparency. Insurance companies and third-party vendors have developed cost calculators that can show you how much you can expect to pay at different locations for the same service. This allows the patient to make an educated decision on where they choose to receive services, maximizing the benefit they receive for their health care dollars.
As technology advances, consumerism is further cemented in our health care system. Patients are becoming more actively involved in their care for various reasons. Doctors and patients alike will have to adjust to this new consumeristic system but both sides of the table feel that the changes will lead to a more effective and efficient health care system.