Changing Consumer Expectations Will Shape the Healthcare Sector

August 25, 2021

IoH Series: Part 6 of 6

What can the healthcare sector learn from other industries in this increasingly digitized age? With rapid changes in technology, consumer needs and expectations continue to shift. This is as true for healthcare as it is for all other sectors. As we sit on the precipice of the advent of the Internet of Health (IoH), now is the time for the healthcare sector to focus on the changing consumer expectations and anticipating future drivers for success in the industry.

Consumer expectations shift with technology

The key driver for the success of the internet in its early days was the revolution in communication brought about by email and other tools built on top of the network rather than the existence of the network itself. Although many organizations already enjoyed the benefits of inter-office communication, email made it possible to disseminate information to an unlimited external audience. Whether for private or business purposes, people quickly took to the ability to exchange information in real-time with people in and beyond their immediate network. From cat memes to contracts, from family holiday snaps to financial information—the internet and email saw consumers deeply engaged with the technology and their expectations going forward shift substantially.

In recent years, the Internet of Things (IoT) has brought about a new revelation in consumer expectations. The arrival of the iPhone in 2007 saw a new breed of technological applications and in the years since, we have seen countless iterations on the technology. Our devices, from laptops to phones, to tablets, smart watches, and more, continue to provide us with greater capabilities, more flexible communications, on-demand information and services, and a deeper level of engagement with our technologies. The development of these new technologies and applications are driven largely by the consumer, and soon we will see a similar phenomenon in the healthcare sector.

Access to information will drive change

Many consumers today, from baby boomers or generation alpha, are deeply immersed in technology and invested heavily in evolving technologies. Consumers are increasingly aware of the plethora of advantages provided by existing technologies and keenly await the arrival of emerging ones—ready and willing to integrate them into their daily lives.

In the past, the healthcare sector has lagged behind other sectors in the consumer technology and information access spaces. Looking at how things are progressing within the health IT realm, this won't be the case for much longer.

Much like the internet’s development, the early adoption of the Internet of Health from a consumer perspective will be driven by access to information. The value proposition for IoH to consumers can be summed up as follows: by using IoH applications, consumers will be able to communicate with their payers and providers in a way that is meaningful to them. This means:

  • improving their health immediately and in the long term;
  • being engaged and involved participants in course of action decisions;
  • communicating directly and effectively with payers to make enquiries about records, billing, and more;
  • collaborating with both payers and providers to better understand their health and healthcare.

We are already seeing broad acceptance of IoT devices across age groups and market segments. Furthermore, consumers are already making use of numerous health-related device applications from being able to track sleep patterns on your iPhone, to using your smart watch to monitor blood pressure, track recent runs, and even measure blood oxygen levels. The key to the success of these technologies lies in the consumer demand for information that is relevant and meaningful to them, and also in the trust associated with these applications.

Inherent value for payers and providers

From a payer perspective, the value proposition for the Internet of Health is in having the consumer actively involved in their healthcare. After all, engaged consumers are less expensive consumers. The upside for healthcare providers is also significant. Having members who are involved in managing their own care means more encounters for providers, and these encounters are more easily predictable and better managed. Consumers invested in their own healthcare become ‘managed healthcare recipients’ for payers and providers, which is a desirable outcome for all players.

Meanwhile, consumers who participate in health applications enjoy greater visibility into their own health, with fewer acute visits (which are messy and difficult for primary carers to manage), and overall better health outcomes. We can expect to see visits that are more easily managed, and the ability for providers to plan and prepare with appropriate strategies.

These changes in the way consumers interact with their providers can result in less overcrowding of hospitals, thanks to payers and providers interacting with members in non-traditional ways (like telehealth) that enable them to live healthier and happier lives.

Consumer expectations: Access, trust, and autonomy

The consumer engagement we will begin to see in the near future is going to be very different from what we’ve seen in the past. Traditionally, we have relied largely on our bodies to operate autonomously to keep us alive, and we simply go to the hospital if and when something goes wrong. Soon, however, the Internet of Health will offer a pathway for extended longevity, regular proactive encounters with our healthcare providers, and more managed healthcare strategies. Patients will be at the core of their healthcare and of the sector.

However, for this to come to fruition, the sector must anticipate and adequately meet consumers’ changing expectations. Access to information is the first critical component of this, but the key to the adoption of new technologies and in generating value for providers and payers is in creating trust. Finally, delivering autonomy to consumers over their own information, how it is shared, and whom it is shared with, will be another important factor.

Those consumers who enjoy youth and robust health will soon become a key demographic for the industry, as managing health and mitigating negative health outcomes becomes a primary consumer expectation. Consumers will soon expect to interact with their devices to gain access to their health information and make decisions about managing their health for longevity and better long-term outcomes for their health. The successful payers and providers in this new age will be those who build strong relationships with consumers by providing access to information, engage meaningfully with members on a regular basis, and encourage consumer engagement with new healthcare technologies.

Today's largely open and unfiltered online world is geared for chaos without accountability. This has led consumers to be distrustful of institutions, such as governments (read: vaccine hesitancy), payers, and to some extent, providers. As the Internet of Health emerges, trust will become a critical factor determining the success or failure of market players.

For consumers to participate fully in the Internet of Health space having a sense of trust is essential. That trust is built over time through meaningful engagement with their payers and providers, as well as interacting with newly created, relevant to participants online communities. From being able to interact with a specialist clinician to generate a managed healthcare plan, to participating in relevant community discussions on certain applications, to accessing timely and accurate payment and billing data—payers and providers can build trust by engaging actively with their members as participants in their own healthcare and by offering valuable solutions.

Privacy and autonomy over data equal trust

There’s no denying that consumers possess high levels of distrust around the sharing of their information. Paradoxically, if a technology and/or application is deemed beneficial, these reservations and barriers are easily dissolved. Just look at Google and Facebook, to name the most recognizable ones.

Many consumers, who might be reluctant to share their information with certain industries or government sectors due to concerns over liberties and privacy, are more often than not willing to give access to huge amounts of personal data to Facebook and Google. Why? Because the benefits of these services to people are deemed worth the risk, and in many cases the benefits of sharing data mean more personalized engagement (especially when it comes to advertising).

The healthcare sector has the opportunity to gain equally deep engagement with consumers by fostering the kind of trust and risk-versus-benefit equation that these technology giants do so effectively. As such, privacy is and will continue to be a critical and mandatory requirement of healthcare.

A core component of the Internet of Health is patient-mediated access, which means that the person who owns the data (the consumer) is the one who determines who can access it and how it will be accessed. Patient-mediated access means consumers who download a healthcare application are more likely to deeply engage with it, and by extension, with their payers and providers. Soon, our healthcare technologies will become the most trusted component of our electronic lives.

The world is rapidly changing as new technologies emerge and consumer expectations quickly shift with these advancements. The key to success for the healthcare sector is understanding how these technologies can improve the consumer’s experience and focusing on a consumer-driven healthcare ideal. Leveraging these emerging technologies to build trust with consumers and meet their expectations for access to information and control over their healthcare will result in better outcomes for consumers as well as greater possibilities for payers and providers.

Read our series of related blogs below to continue learning about the Internet of Health (IoH).

Read Part 1: FHIR and the Promise of Interoperability

Read Part 2: The Internet of Health: Why Collaboration Matters

Read Part 3: Avoid Obsolescence as Healthcare Technology Advances

Read Part 4: Why We Need to Build the Internet of Health

Read Part 5: How Smile Digital Health is Enabling the Internet of Health

Read Part 6: Changing Consumer Expectations Will Shape the Healthcare Sector