For the patient, healthcare is about three things: timely treatment, professionalism access to quality care. But what if the patient is a commodity? Increasingly, we are seeing hospitals and insurance providers put a premium on pricing as they broker a solution that puts the onus on cost, not care.
This has all kinds of damaging implications for the patient and the healthcare industry because it unties interests and erodes professionalism. If hospitals are trying to court patient contracts they will focus on the superficial to court attention: this may mean more money on a fancy lobby, and it may mean less money on well-trained healthcare professionals.
We have seen similar ‘strategic’ behaviors in other sectors. The shop window becomes the most important asset, not the product itself. A competitive market can lower prices, but also services and industry standards: car companies make less efficient models that need to be replaced, or tech companies make smartphones which require constant updates. Similar behavior in medicine is ethically abhorrent and irresponsible. From a business point of view – you’re damaging your client base and destroying your own reputation.
This commoditization will erode the core tenets of healthcare. If a patient doesn’t trust the system they may hesitate, or give up seeking treatment altogether, making a treatable problem worse. It’s painful to say, but insurance brokerage can create a situation that benefits from that, instead of providing peace of mind. When you’re simply wanting to get better, simplicity is your friend, and complexity, your enemy.
For this reason, it is unsurprising that many Americans are throwing up their hands in despair when it comes to navigating the priced landscape of healthcare. Someone suffering from a serious disease does not want to be making a decision where they trade off cost against care, while the clock ticks… That’s why you take out insurance, so someone has that all in hand for you.
Fortunately for the patient, the power of consumer pricing cuts both ways. As I’ve written previously, technology is now allowing patients to scrutinize and adjudicate their healthcare. As consumers we’re able to gather and share data, identifying best practice and making clear to the industry what is expected. In many ways, the market is the best arbiter – indeed, if insurers are looking to broker their clients’ welfare, they might soon find those clients doing exactly the same thing to them in return.