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Are Patients Consumers?

When you are relaxing and watching your favorite evening television program or surfing the Internet and advertisements pop up for a cholesterol, anti-aging or arthritis medication, it leaves no doubt in your mind that you are being targeted as a consumer of health care.

Wikipedia defines a consumer as an individual who uses goods generated within the economy. As a health care consumer you need to be equipped with the information to choose your providers, medications and special services, based on the right price, features, brand recognition and appeal.

In the past if you had a medical problem, you saw your local general practitioner. He or she suggested a treatment and you generally followed those recommendations with little decision-making desire or power on your part. You were okay with that.

Today, there are so many variables, including cost vs coverage, efficacy of the treatment, and complex evidence-based diagnoses, that force the patient to shop for health care and make choices. The development of consumer directed health plans that most employers support because they save money, put you in the driver’s seat when choosing health insurance. These plans give you options for choosing your provider, hospital, pharmacy and other peripheral services such as therapists and clinics. They encourage you to choose health savings programs and flexible spending plans which include high deductibles and ways to put aside money to help pay for extraordinary health expenses should they arise. The cost analysis involved with consumer directed health plans forces you to stop and think about whether or not to seek treatment or put it off; whether to go to the community hospital or look for a specialist at a large academic teaching hospital where the costs are higher; whether to take the newest medication developed for a particular condition or a generic that will be cheaper and covered by the plan. Does this force you to become an educated consumer of health care? You bet.

This is not a bad thing. It is the way you are empowered with the information and financial responsibility to own your health care decisions and deal with your health in a holistic way rather than engaging in a knee jerk reaction to sickness and disease. It is a way of forcing you to plan and take actions that reinforce wellness prevention, compliance, treatment and early intervention programs. There is no question that consumerism in health care is a fact that you cannot avoid. Whether or not it will help to improve the quality and efficiency of your care and result in better outcomes is up to you.

One thought on "Are Patients Consumers?"

JKTruitt says:

Sure patients should be as educated and have choices, but they should also be able to rely on their care providers to make treatment recommendations that are in their best interest. For example, emergent care, overburdened chronically ill patients, those with a low level of health literacy. I think a lot of the changes that are in the works today overburden the patient at a time when they need CARE and TRUST.

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