The idea of “consumer empowered” healthcare is a myth

SUMMARY: From the prices of medications to the choice of doctors and treatments the idea that people are “consumers of healthcare” is a canard. The fact that we don’t have control is one reason why Gallup reported that so many people are unsatisfied with the state of healthcare in the U.S.

It’s not uncommon for people covered by company-sponsored healthcare to pay $5-$10K per year including premiums and deductibles. Since we all seem to be paying more we like to think that we have choices when it comes to OUR healthcare but unfortunately most of us don’t.

According to a study by Liazon, although 83% of employees care a lot about their health coverage, only 52% really understand their benefits. And a big reason has to do with the fact that many of us aren’t willing to put in the time. Specifically, 86% of workers spend less than two hours reviewing their benefits, and that’s not a whole lot in the grand scheme of one’s wallet and one’s health.

Then there is the new law that says that hospitals need to tell patients prices for services. Unfortunately, you usually need a medical degree to understand the line items which are often disguised with abbreviations or medical terms. This is done on purpose because if patients found that an x-ray was $2000 they probably would throw a fit.

When it comes to prescription drugs politicians think a quick fix is to add the list price to DTC ads. This is nothing but smoke and mirrors. If we really wanted to empower patients we would show them the whole pricing structure including the discounted price and the tiers of pricing for each medication offered by insurers. If patients saw that you can believe there would be a huge outrage.

Finally, there are EHR’s. Patients feel that EHR’s belong to them, not to their doctors. They want their EHR’s to be shared among ALL their HCP’s and they want them user-friendly. Most of today’s EHR’s are anything but user-friendly.

There is a lot our healthcare system could learn from the consumer products business but we tend to demonize the wrong systems. Sure the price for insulin is an outrage but being told what medications we can take and where we can go is also insulting when we’re paying so much out of pocket. Until healthcare starts to allow patients more access to THEIR care we are at the mercy of the system.