Consumer Wants to Rule in Health Care Industry's Future

Article excerpt

Imagine a world in which following a visit to your physician, you return home, turn on your computer and call up your physician's site on the Web.

After you've logged in, you view a menu of options, some of which are available to anyone viewing the Web site and some of which are tailored specifically to your medical history and condition. Click on one button and you can review your physician's recommendations about the diet you should follow. Click on another to see if you understand the therapy you are to do. Click again to find out the results of your lab test. At another button, get your physician's thoughts on a new drug or some emerging medical technology you've read about in the newspaper. Click once more and get detailed descriptions of the symptoms and treatment for common illnesses and conditions. Answers to nearly every health care question you or any other patient might have are provided here, either on a generic or personal basis. It's truly one-site-fits-all.

Imagine, too, that through this same technology, your physician is linked to thousands of the very best physicians across the country, all sharing their thoughts about the latest medications, equipment and discoveries. Your physician participates in this electronic community in order to improve her medical practice and improve the care she provides to you.

Soon, you won't have to leave such scenarios to your imagination. The technology to make all of this happen is rapidly coming to a computer near you, and will be only a part of a large and concentrated effort to meet consumer needs.

The coming focus on what the consumer wants is a different focus many people are used to seeing in health care. In terms of your health, physicians have always been focused on doing the right thing for the right reasons. But for many health care providers -- and here, perhaps, hospitals are the worst offenders -- being responsive to your needs or making it easy for you to work your way through the system has generally taken a back seat to the needs of the providers themselves.

Customer satisfaction surveys show that hospitals rank above the IRS but below the post office. Not a good place to be, clearly. But the truth is that anyone with dealings in the health care environment knows how confusing the system can be. If you have surgery in a hospital, you're likely to get bills from your attending physician, the surgeon who operated on you, an anesthesiologist whom you may not even remember, a pathologist and radiologist whom you never saw and the hospital itself. Should you need rehabilitation or home health, all the confusion starts again as you move through the billing complexities and cycles of those organizations.

The old approach which places needs of health care providers above those of health care consumers won't work much longer. A more demanding public will have high expectations, and will reward only those providers which have truly distinctive service levels. …