Highly informed and empowered consumers are among the most attractive patients for health care providers, and marketers that wish to reach them in 2018 must understand nine trends that will govern how these consumers behave in the new year.

The enormity of consumerism’s influence in business can not be underestimated. It’s the very cornerstone of supply-and-demand capitalism, which makes it the fundamental building block of the American economy. Factors like government regulation and payer provider networks shielded the health care sector from the most volatile swings produced by consumerism for decades, but many of those safeguards have eroded completely. The reasons why are many, but by far the largest contributor to the rise of consumerism in the health care market is the internet.

These nine consumerism trends will dominate health care in 2018.

1. Insurance Chaos

Insurance coverage changes are accelerating with higher deductibles, plan terminations and à la carte plans becoming the norm. Consumers are directly impacted by these actions and are becoming more price-sensitive to the services that they are paying a larger percentage of the cost to receive. The complex rules and exceptions are creating confusion and drawing patients to providers that navigate this landscape for them and are able to quote simple “driveaway” prices.

2. Self-diagnosis

Many patients Google their symptoms before they visit a health care provider and diagnose themselves before walking into an office. When they visit physicians, they are really seeking a second opinion for what they have already learned. Doctors are still viewed as experts whose opinions trump what they have learned on the internet, but only when that opinion can be justified with evidence. Providers who work with this new paradigm and use it to aid in early detection and greater health are better positioned than those who fight it.

internet vs doctor

Source: dotHealth Consumer Health Online2017 Research Report

3. Undoctoring

The vast availability of research, opinions and care alternatives online has led patients to seek supplemental therapies beyond what physicians prescribe. Doctors can expect that many patients will not simply do what they direct. Some will take additional action, others may employ some variant of what has been recommended. In extreme cases, medical tourism brings patients to seek options outside of traditional Western medicine.

4. Medical Shopping

Adam Smith’s invisible hand applies to health care today more than ever since employer-sponsored health care systems were established during World War II. Consumer trust in reasonable and customary contracted rates through payers has eroded and patients are demanding pricing transparency in procedures and products. Comparison shopping for care is increasing and providers equipped to quote accurate pricing before care is administered are seen as more trustworthy than those who can’t or won’t. Expect this trend to force lower prices for care over time.

5. Elite Fitness

Americans are embracing healthier lifestyles in seeking options for exercise and the food that they eat. This will accelerate as the younger generations most interested in these activities and food options age and seek more care. Healthier lifestyles are expected to lead to increased vitality and longer lifespans, but also boost the need for repair medicine like neuromuscular and orthopedic care.

6. Alternatives and Substitutes

Herbal remedies, speciality diets and homeopathic therapies are examples of treatments that patients seek to complement or substitute for traditional medicine. Websites and social media platforms offer vast information and instruction on the use of these therapies and many patients are turning to them to reduce cost, side effects or efficacy. Physicians are not trained in these unregulated alternatives, but patients are asking them for opinions on whether they work or at least cause no harm.

7. Applification

Smartphones and wearable devices enable consumers to monitor everything from steps to caloric intake. This technology is exploding and gamifying health, giving patients unprecedented insight into how lifestyle impacts health. It also serves as an early detection system that helps identify issues quickly and will lead to greater longevity.

smartphone device advantages

Source: dotHealth Consumer Health Online2017 Research Report

8. ‘Clean’ Eating

Pharmaceutical marketing led to a big push for pharmacies to remodel in the 1980s, and we are seeing a similar shift in grocers today. Even non-specialty grocery stores are rapidly expanding organic sections, sourcing food from local farmers and labeling wild-caught seafood. Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods and Walmart’s launch of an organic private-label brand exemplify how huge this trend is. Cleaner eating will lead to a decline in many diseases of accumulation like dementias, cancers and cardiopulmonary disease.

pharmaceutical marketing

Source: Oliver Wyman

9. User Experience

Today’s consumers have plenty of options and they know it. Retailers offering speed and personalization are rising above generalized service offerings as user experience rises as a key leverage point. Patients are no longer willing to navigate voice prompts when trying to make an appointment; they will simply hang up and call another provider. They will also walk straight out of a waiting room if kept idle for too long. This applies to every aspect of user experience as it becomes easier for patients to seek alternatives.

Though health care is experiencing a seismic shift in the type of care modern consumers expect, opportunities for those that respond to it appropriately are large. The victors of health care over the next decade will all share one thing in common: the understanding that consumerism is king.


This article originally appeared on AMA.org

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