Less clinical, more personal: Putting the consumer at the center of healthcare

There’s a troubling dichotomy at play across healthcare because what should be a highly personal service — caring for each healthcare consumer — is deeply impersonal. The problem begins with the dehumanizing institutional language that we’ve created around doctors, facilities and machines. It’s become this way to ensure that the delivered care is clinical, repeatable and predictable. Those capabilities are all important, but the balance between the clinical and the personal has swung too far in the direction of the impersonal.

While the term “population health” sounds impersonal, the objective of the triple aim, of which population health is an integral part, is to improve outcomes and the patient experience and, by virtue of that, change the cost of being alive. A fourth component of this — perhaps the quadruple aim — would be to give providers fulfillment because a clinical, dehumanized approach to medicine makes it difficult to connect with the patient or consumer of care.

All of these objectives can and should be met through personalized care. While personalized medicine or personalized therapy is a complex proposition — although one that is making huge strides — personalized care is a low hurdle to overcome. We just have to pay attention and take advantage of readily available innovations.

To achieve personalized care, healthcare has to reconsider the model on which it has been built. Over time, the underlying economics of the system have forced care team members to focus on machines and on making sure they get the needed information from the CT scanner and other technologies, or on keeping physicians busy. It hasn’t been centered on the consumers who need care; they have been an afterthought. Instead, we need to put consumers at the center of the healthcare ecosystem.

Mergers and acquisitions plus technology driving change

Some powerful dynamics are now taking place that are forcing a change to a consumer-centric healthcare model. As retailers buy hospitals and payers buy providers, a once inwardly focused industry is rapidly becoming consumer-driven.

These developments, along with the opportunities afforded by next-generation care coordination solutions, are leading healthcare organizations to rethink their models. Instead of keeping an individual in a hospital bed — which had been an important revenue stream for hospitals — new ways of thinking and new technologies are pushing a move toward care beyond the four walls of the hospital. Care teams can now engage and have an impact on a healthcare consumer’s well-being remotely as opposed to doing this by the hospital bedside. And enhancing the well-being of customers really should be the primary objective.

One of the other drivers for this change in approach is an increasingly connected consumer, requiring healthcare providers to pay attention to each person’s fears, goals and objectives. In this environment, the concept of “the doctor will see you now” is shifting to “the patient will see you now.”

A powerful example of this shifting focus to the needs of the patient was illustrated recently in an advertisement that aired in Australia for a service provided by a private healthcare insurer. This is a real-life story of a young man struck down with lymphoma and trying to cope with the challenges his illness — as well as the treatment — has dealt him. Responding to this young man as a customer, the story tells of how he is now able to receive chemotherapy at home rather than having to travel to a hospital and give up a day waiting for and receiving treatment. This is about gearing care to the needs, goals and objectives of the consumer.

Patient-centered technology is beginning to allow that type of transformation in the healthcare industry. Leveraging that technology enables mass customization of personalized care — contradictory though those two concepts might appear. What it means, though, is that everything that is known about that person – the diagnosis, the needed care, the goals he or she has, what is frustrating to him or her — can be captured to allow the very best healthcare in a way that will be least obtrusive to the person. That’s what we want as consumers of care: We want care providers to listen to us, to pay attention to our specific health needs and expectations, and to deliver the most relevant care when and how we want and need it.

Personalized medicine is hard and expensive, but the industry is making great strides on the genomics front. Personalized care, on the other hand, is attainable now — and with the tools at the industry’s disposal, there’s no excuse not to deliver it. Ultimately, when we end up connecting the genomic data we have and are able to personalize every therapy and combine it with personalized care, we will have transformed healthcare into a 22nd century concept.


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