Consumer Revolution, Evolution, or Devolution?

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media , March 12, 2008

I get that consumerism isn't here yet, that it might not even be here any minute now. I get that health savings accounts aren't as ubiquitous as 401(K) plans. I get that not everybody's like me. But I don't think that the lack of standardized information online is going to stop people from making a decision about whether or not they want to go to your hospital, use your physicians and specialists, or tell everyone they know about their experience there.

In fact, all the lack of standardized information means is that people are going to make decisions based on whatever they can dig up online--be it nasty blog posts from a disgruntled employee, the story in the local paper about traffic hassles caused by the construction of your new building, or the fact that your competition is printing price and quality information on its own site, even if that information is oversimplified or misleading.

One of the six "magatrends" cited in the Futurescan report, in addition to consumerism, is competition. It seems to me that increased competition would be more of a minitrend if consumerism wasn't at play. Consumers who care about reputation and word-of-mouth might question a referral from their primary care physician. Patients who care about price might consider medical tourism, while patients who care about quality would think twice about getting surgery in a country where they can't drink the water.

OK, there's the issue of margaritas and sandy beaches. But that's a kind of consumer experience, too.

I respect the thought leaders who work hard to sift through data and reports, talk to industry insiders, and tap their own deep understanding of the healthcare market to create the annual Futurescan report. I wonder, though, what future reports will say about consumerism. Will the consumer revolution ever begin in earnest? Or will it turn out to be a bunch of hooey?

Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at

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