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Consumerism in Healthcare: The Relentless Chase of An Elusive Goal


Health Innovators


I guess it all converges on one point: the customer. From the dry cleaners to the operating room, the goal now seems to be customer-centricity. Yes, thumbs up, four stars, and likes are today's currency of success. In a recent survey by Kaufman Hall, that examined 200 hospitals and healthcare systems, the headline was loud and clear.

Survey of Major Health Systems Reveals a Great Emphasis on Consumer-Focused Strategies, but Progress Remains Slow

Let's take a closer look.

It's interesting that 90 percent of respondents stated that improving the customer experience is a high priority - a number that's jumped up from 30 percent in 2017. Further, the role of digital tools to engage customers has also climbed significantly from 14 percent to 64 percent over the same short time span. Hospitals seem to be catching the same consumer bug that pharma has been infected with for several years. But I don't know if the cure is worse than the disease.

I remain worried. And there are two central concerns:

  • Will patient-centricity truly trump superior care and drive a market where style over substance can adversely impact the quality of care?
  • Are hospitals wasting valuable dollars by following the herd with poorly planned and tracked consumer marketing programs?

OK, nice waiting rooms and on-line scheduling is fine. Let's even throw in some billboards and TV spots too. But just as pharma seems to be defined by their ubiquitous "I've got my life back" taglines, I sense that hospitals are looking to become the next Apple story or Amazon experience. (I wonder what Atul Gawande would think?) But does this obsession with the patient - I mean the consumer - reflect the best strategy for superior medical care? The blurred distinctions of consumer brands rely on perception as the path to creating a key reality. But perceptions of efficacy and safety are vastly different and the imposition of "joy" and "satisfaction" as the new statistical p value. Well, perhaps p now stands for patient!

Here's a quote from the study that confounds this even more.

We are assuming we know what they (consumers) want, but I'm not sure we do....un-named executive

And as we dig a little deeper, we find that many hospitals are ill prepared to do the "history and physical exam" of marketing to be successful. Only 15 percent of respondents indicated that they have personnel trained and experienced in consumer research. And only 25 percent had a fully operational team in this area.

And this is where we end up: at a point where "progress remains slow."

Healthcare is broken. Just ask anyone. And the path to repair may be less about the "consumerization" of care but the implementation of quality, data-driven guidelines for both care receiver and care provider. And advances in technology can certainly help drive change. But that "search for joy" may be taking our eyes off the ball and making us seek more of an elusive than practical goal. Of course, the patient experience is essential. But the prioritization of strategy is as important as the strategy itself. Pushing customer-centricity to the front of the pack and implementing it with an ill-informed staff is no path at all. It's simply not affordable and might just be a dangerous waste of time.

Follow me @JohnNosta for a more informed and healthy future.

Republished with Permission from the author as previously published on


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