What Does the Gig Economy Mean for Patients?

Feb 19, 2018

By Lygeia Ricciardi (@Lygeia)

The “gig economy” is usually associated with mainstream consumer service companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Starbucks. But the underlying gig model—in which individuals are receiving payment for part-time contributions of a skill or resource—has seeped much deeper into the fabric of our economy… and is now encompassing patient advocates and the patient expert-for-hire.

Who is paying for on-demand patient advocate expertise? Market researchers, health systems, technology developers, pharmaceutical companies. Patients’ expertise may be shared online or in person, and may include product or message testing, public speaking, or opportunities to serve as a partner in research. WEGO Health, the largest network of patient experts, describes its patient consultants as “Patient Leaders” who fall into the categories of experts, influencers, and patient advocates:  

Source: WEGO Health

What’s going on here? In the recent past, very few healthcare organizations asked for—or were prepared to pay for—patient input. IMHO (in my humble opinion) the phenomenon of the gig economy patient expert is driven by these forces:

  • Technology, including the very same effects of widespread broadband Internet access and ubiquitous mobile phones that are driving other types of “gigs,” as well as the proliferation of health apps and wired devices that make it possible to collect new kinds of health-related data at low cost
  • A growing realization among healthcare providers that consumer engagement is necessary for the health of their bottom line in an increasingly value-based payment system
  • A growing realization among a broad range of healthcare-affiliated organizations that the consumer/patient controls more money, and makes more decisions than ever before, particularly with higher deductible health plans and more options for receiving care in traditional and non-traditional ways (e.g., telemedicine, drug store clinics)
  • The efforts of a growing group of mission-driven people who genuinely want to benefit patients (financially and by amplifying their voices) while providing a practical and valuable service to members of the healthcare system

Will the gig-economy patient expert model continue to gather momentum? Will it significantly transform healthcare?

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Lygeia Ricciardi is a digital health expert and President, Clear Voice Consulting