Commentary

‘Tis the season to embrace the positives of health care consumerism

The holiday season is a time to celebrate with people who are important to us and to be grateful for blessings received. However, for many, the meaning of these holidays has turned into consumerism focused on the acquisition of belongings and sharing the joy of newly acquired possessions.

Consumerism has become the dominant cultural force of our year-end holidays. It distorts their meaning and diverts the focus of these special times from relationships, religious beliefs and self-reflection.

Anthony A. Romeo, MD
Anthony A. Romeo

Consumerism in health care

We have to be careful to avoid this distortion in health care. The concept of consumerism in health care arose from the premise that giving individuals sufficient information regarding their health care produces educated, personal decisions and better health care consumption and value-based care. However, this approach must be closely monitored since this shift in the definition of value puts health care at risk of drifting away from its original purpose as has occurred with the holiday season. The belief that more technology improves outcomes, higher charges equal better care and sophisticated apps provide better insight is false and has led to developments and health care innovations that often are not proven to be equal to or better than status quo. Furthermore, new concepts that claim to reduce specific health care delivery system costs may ultimately result in higher total expenses. Despite efforts aimed at controlling costs, unsustainable increases in health care spending remain an important issue for politicians and patients.

Our capitalistic society will continue to promote health care consumerism, which can impact the site of care, transparency of charges and choice of physicians, pharmaceuticals, surgical procedures and implants. This will occur regardless of policy or regulatory support when patients’ smartphones are equipped with clinical care algorithms based on established clinical practice guidelines and appropriate use criteria. It will be driven by the concept that one-third of the $3 trillion in health care spending is for fraudulent care or treatments with limited or no evidence of achieving clinically significant outcomes.

New products and technology that drive health care consumerism can be financially rewarding to investors, but also may result in added expenses trickling down to patients. Progress in artificial intelligence (AI) conjures up images of patients who use phone apps for their health care until they need a surgical procedure. Advances in telemedicine, robotics, patient-specific imaging-assisted and augmented reality surgery, combined with AI, suggest profound changes are underway in how surgical care is provided. It is uncertain how these advances will be paid for, but financial challenges will likely be met because we live in a wealthy country with an insatiable appetite for better health.

Positives of health care consumerism

We must guard against the negative aspects of health care consumerism in which quality care or satisfied patients is linked to having the most apps or receiving the best non-physician technology-based solutions. However, there are ways to embrace the positives of consumerism in health care services.

As physicians, our job as patient advocates is to keep patients at the center of our efforts despite the thinking that health care provider-patient relationships will become nonessential. Forward-thinking companies are banking on the emergence of a stronger provider-patient relationship by placing care kiosks in workplaces, parking lots and drug stores to improve access to care, seeking to impact patients at many levels by adopting evidence-based criteria for care decisions and reducing cost.

Patients still want a personal relationship with their physicians and will seek our guidance and advice. We should support a patient-centric model of innovation that helps patients side step confusing messaging and distorted cultural values to identify valuable care. We should identify resources that help patients address their concerns and seek determinants of health that have the potential to prevent illness and injury. Undoubtedly, the orthopedic surgeon’s role will diversify beyond typical surgeon responsibilities into being a consultant for new apps and web-based programs.

Our focus must be on patients and providing greater value in health care through the management of patient satisfaction and updating information, providing consumer-based access to offices and scheduling, and improving front desk hospitality. If we do not stay involved and provide a compass for patients that consists of physician-led, patient-centric priorities, a negative culture of health care consumerism will prevail and distort our true purpose of providing better care at the most appropriate cost.

Disclosure: Romeo reports he receives royalties, is on the speakers bureau, is a consultant and does contracted research for Arthrex; receives institutional grants from MLB; and receives institutional research support from Arthrex, Ossur, Smith & Nephew, ConMed Linvatec, Athletico and Wright Medical.

The holiday season is a time to celebrate with people who are important to us and to be grateful for blessings received. However, for many, the meaning of these holidays has turned into consumerism focused on the acquisition of belongings and sharing the joy of newly acquired possessions.

Consumerism has become the dominant cultural force of our year-end holidays. It distorts their meaning and diverts the focus of these special times from relationships, religious beliefs and self-reflection.

Anthony A. Romeo, MD
Anthony A. Romeo

Consumerism in health care

We have to be careful to avoid this distortion in health care. The concept of consumerism in health care arose from the premise that giving individuals sufficient information regarding their health care produces educated, personal decisions and better health care consumption and value-based care. However, this approach must be closely monitored since this shift in the definition of value puts health care at risk of drifting away from its original purpose as has occurred with the holiday season. The belief that more technology improves outcomes, higher charges equal better care and sophisticated apps provide better insight is false and has led to developments and health care innovations that often are not proven to be equal to or better than status quo. Furthermore, new concepts that claim to reduce specific health care delivery system costs may ultimately result in higher total expenses. Despite efforts aimed at controlling costs, unsustainable increases in health care spending remain an important issue for politicians and patients.

Our capitalistic society will continue to promote health care consumerism, which can impact the site of care, transparency of charges and choice of physicians, pharmaceuticals, surgical procedures and implants. This will occur regardless of policy or regulatory support when patients’ smartphones are equipped with clinical care algorithms based on established clinical practice guidelines and appropriate use criteria. It will be driven by the concept that one-third of the $3 trillion in health care spending is for fraudulent care or treatments with limited or no evidence of achieving clinically significant outcomes.

New products and technology that drive health care consumerism can be financially rewarding to investors, but also may result in added expenses trickling down to patients. Progress in artificial intelligence (AI) conjures up images of patients who use phone apps for their health care until they need a surgical procedure. Advances in telemedicine, robotics, patient-specific imaging-assisted and augmented reality surgery, combined with AI, suggest profound changes are underway in how surgical care is provided. It is uncertain how these advances will be paid for, but financial challenges will likely be met because we live in a wealthy country with an insatiable appetite for better health.

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Positives of health care consumerism

We must guard against the negative aspects of health care consumerism in which quality care or satisfied patients is linked to having the most apps or receiving the best non-physician technology-based solutions. However, there are ways to embrace the positives of consumerism in health care services.

As physicians, our job as patient advocates is to keep patients at the center of our efforts despite the thinking that health care provider-patient relationships will become nonessential. Forward-thinking companies are banking on the emergence of a stronger provider-patient relationship by placing care kiosks in workplaces, parking lots and drug stores to improve access to care, seeking to impact patients at many levels by adopting evidence-based criteria for care decisions and reducing cost.

Patients still want a personal relationship with their physicians and will seek our guidance and advice. We should support a patient-centric model of innovation that helps patients side step confusing messaging and distorted cultural values to identify valuable care. We should identify resources that help patients address their concerns and seek determinants of health that have the potential to prevent illness and injury. Undoubtedly, the orthopedic surgeon’s role will diversify beyond typical surgeon responsibilities into being a consultant for new apps and web-based programs.

Our focus must be on patients and providing greater value in health care through the management of patient satisfaction and updating information, providing consumer-based access to offices and scheduling, and improving front desk hospitality. If we do not stay involved and provide a compass for patients that consists of physician-led, patient-centric priorities, a negative culture of health care consumerism will prevail and distort our true purpose of providing better care at the most appropriate cost.

Disclosure: Romeo reports he receives royalties, is on the speakers bureau, is a consultant and does contracted research for Arthrex; receives institutional grants from MLB; and receives institutional research support from Arthrex, Ossur, Smith & Nephew, ConMed Linvatec, Athletico and Wright Medical.