Defining Consumerization in Healthcare

Mar 18, 2019

By John Sharp, Director, Thought Advisory, Personal Connected Health Alliance

There has been much debate and discussion on the role of the 'consumer' in healthcare. In order to explore this further, we must first distinguish between consumerism and consumerization. Consumerism is defined as “the protection or promotion of the interests of consumers.” According to Gartner, “Consumerization is the specific impact that consumer-originated technologies can have on enterprises. It reflects how enterprises will be affected by, and can take advantage of, new technologies and models that originate and develop in the consumer space, rather than in the enterprise IT sector.”

At the HIMSS19 conference, the Personal Connected Health Alliance (PCHAlliance) sponsored an all-day symposium on the “Consumerization of Healthcare". The first symposium of its kind at a HIMSS conference, an impressive lineup of thought leaders presented a number of solutions that can facilitate easier and more personalized healthcare for the consumer. Underscoring the importance of this topic, a Forrester report from the conference observed that, “The needs and expectations of consumers have evolved, and the industry must act. Talk of on-demand services and empowered consumers drove the conversation in many sessions.” 

My first thought is that 'consumerization' involves convenience of care, whether that is ease of making appointments, the option of eVisits or Amazon-like same day delivery of prescriptions. Our current healthcare system is notoriously inconvenient for patients, garnering criticism for long wait times, requirements for prior approvals, confusing insurance coverage and lack of transparency on costs, to name a few.

Patient empowerment is the second key to consumerization, ensuring patients get easy access to actionable data, a clear understanding of their treatment options and a care plan developed jointly with their healthcare provider.  To effectively empower patients, we must deliver tools like patient portals with secure messaging to their healthcare providers, open notes, online or app prescription refills, etc. Finally, consumerization includes wellness options - evidence-based apps and devices that keep an individual healthy by encouraging healthy choices and helping them maintain a healthy lifestyle. These tools - such as activity monitors, health apps and sensors are typically not offered by healthcare providers but are purchased and adopted by the individual or promoted by one’s employer.

The March 2019 issue of Health Affairs focuses on Patients as Consumers. One article acknowledges some of the challenges healthcare organizations face, and how innovative approaches to consumer engagement are changing that. “Misaligned financial incentives, change management challenges, and privacy concerns are some of the hurdles that have prevented health systems from deploying technology that engages patients along the care continuum.” The authors note that while consumer engagement technology and programs may not contribute to revenue, competitive markets make “consumer engagement … an important differentiator and may even be a basic requirement.” There is even a new field of study emerging: Consumer Health Informatics. Private equity is even looking at consumerization of healthcare as an investment opportunity according to a report by EY.

Consumerization in healthcare is technology-enabled, as consumers now expect all services to be. It is driving change in health and healthcare from a provider/hospital orientation to one with more consumer control and empowerment. As the Commonwealth Fund has stated: “A Connected Patient is a Healthier Patient” [consumer].

The 2019 Connected Health Conference will tackle consumerization of healthcare, including workplace health, clinical and non-traditional care delivery and ‘self-health,’ as well as personalization and patient engagement, clinician wellbeing, and best practices from other industries applied to health (from retail, manufacturing, agriculture, auto, food industry, etc.).