Embracing Healthcare Consumerism Yields Positive Outcomes for All

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By Tracy Accardi

Consumerism has never been more important than it is for businesses today, especially in the healthcare industry. Patients are playing a more active role in their own health, from researching symptoms and best health maintenance practices, to comparing physician opinions and facility prices, and more.

No longer are patients idly executing on the first piece of standard physician advice they receive. Rather, they are advocating for themselves and having open dialogues with their doctors to receive care that is unique to their needs and lifestyle. Healthcare consumerism is here to stay; and, it’s up to healthcare administrators and practitioners to understand how healthcare consumerism is impacting the industry and how they can adapt to best care for their patients in order to remain successful. This concept holds true across all sectors in health care.

As the Global Vice President of Research and Development for Breast and Skeletal Solutions at Hologic, Inc.—and a woman helping to design medical technology for women—I have seen from both a professional and personal perspective how healthcare consumerism is shaping the industry, especially in radiology. Consider annual breast screening exams, for example.

The model and guidelines for this have come a long way since the first standard mammograms were brought to market. Today, from 3D mammography to ultrasound, MRI and more, women have a variety of technology options for their breast screenings depending on their individual patient profile that they can discuss with their doctors and seek out in different facilities. 

Even aspects as personal as a woman’s work schedule are being taken into consideration and impacting the way facilities handle patient breast screenings. Legislation was passed in 2017 in New York, for example, that requires hospitals and clinics to offer a certain number of extended hours outside of the standard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. timeframe to accommodate the many time-constraining obligations women have on a daily basis. 

These shifts in patient offerings and care may not seem wildly significant when considered individually; but together they can have a very large impact on a health system’s performance. Perhaps most notably, these factors collectively help comprise patient satisfaction scores, which most professionals in the industry should realize continue to influence a facility’s level of success. 

As a result, for facilities to best adjust to healthcare consumerism, their professionals—both clinical and non-clinical—should look to the very reason they open their doors each day as they make decisions: their patients. What do patients want? They want to feel they are informed about their care options, empowered to ask questions and that their needs are being considered when health systems make big decisions that will affect them. 

To put this into perspective, consider breast density exams in the radiology field. Women have different breast density levels, and those with very dense breasts are four to five times more likely to develop breast cancer than women with less dense breasts.1,2 Cancer in dense breasts can be especially difficult to identify on certain imaging modalities compared to more appropriate technology, like 3D mammography, since it is the same color as dense tissue. Yet, women wouldn’t necessarily know to ask for a 3D mammography exam if they were not first educated on what their breast density is; and, while some states require physicians to inform their patients of this information, there are still many of these conversations that are not being had. On the opposite spectrum of this, there are facilities adopting new technology that can help radiologists quickly and accurately standardize breast density categorization across all of their patients instead of relying on their individual, visual assessments, which can be subjective. Taking this extra step, discussing the results with their patients and recommending their best screening options from there gives patients quality care, context and choices, and therefore empowerment. 

One great way of gauging what patients for a particular facility want is through collecting feedback. This may seem daunting at first, but health systems should welcome this approach with open arms by regularly distributing surveys to solicit insights. They may find that certain hours, methods of communication and other factors have been significantly impacting the overall sentiment of their patients, for better or worse, and can make informed decisions to elicit positive change. Additionally, the act of asking for feedback in itself demonstrates to patients that their voices matter and want to be heard.

While getting started on healthcare consumerism-focused efforts can seem intimidating, they are necessary to sustain momentum, and starting to adjust now can help health systems stay ahead of the curve. In fact, according to Kauffman Hall’s 2018 State of Consumerism in Healthcare Report, 90 percent of hospitals and health systems surveyed say improving consumer experience is a top priority for them, but only eight percent of hospitals and health systems demonstrate strong consumer-centric performance, and 70 percent of organizations either have not even begun, or are in the very early stages of their consumerism efforts. 

Healthcare consumerism is a trend that will only continue to grow, and avoiding it is no longer an option. The question is, how long will you wait for your facility to adapt to the change? 

Tracy Accardi is the global vice president of research and development, breast and skeletal solutions, at Hologic, Inc.

1. Boyd NF, Guo H, Martin LJ, et al. Mammographic density and the risk and detection of breast cancer. N Engl J Med. 356(3):227-36, 2007.
2. Yaghjyan L, Colditz GA, Collins LC, et al. Mammographic breast density and subsequent risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women according to tumor characteristics. J Natl Cancer Inst. 103(15):1179-89, 2011.

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