The previous decade has seen patients shouldering larger and larger portions of the cost of their own healthcare. At the same time, the rise of Millennials—the generation born between 1981 and 1996—is transforming American demographics and introducing new consumer expectations. Also, trends like the availability of online reviews bring info to patients more easily than ever. Put it all together and we’re seeing a sea change in healthcare where patients are freer agents than in the past and are empowered to exercise that flexibility by shopping prices and looking for easier ways to get the care they need. Payors and providers are realizing they must understand patients as consumers.
Consumers Want Convenience
As they’ve grown to expect in other areas of their lives (investments, retail, airline travel, even catching an Uber) most people under the age of 50 are seeking the convenience of engaging with those involved with their care via digital tools. McKinsey’s 2016 Consumer Health Survey revealed that patients view digital health tools as preferable to phone or in-person communication. In fact, they view these tools as the most effective way to complete many tasks required to receive health care, including:
- Shopping for a health plan
- Searching for a doctor
- Checking health information
- Monitoring health metrics
- Paying insurance bills
- Purchasing health plans
Successful Digital Health Offerings Must Meet Consumer Preference
A plethora of mobile health apps and other tools have been developed to meet these preferences. However only a small percentage are actually being used by consumers, with 90% of downloads occurring with only 12% of the mHealth tools available on iTunes. Awareness is key to ensuring user adoption, but tools must also pass the convenience test. Even when consumers are aware a tool exists, they won’t use it unless it creates value by making tasks easier and/or more effective.
McKinsey’s survey further showed that many consumers are disenchanted by digital health offerings. In fact, less than a third reported being “highly satisfied” with digital solutions provided by their doctors, which, the report says, is “the lowest satisfaction rating reported for any aspect of care (other aspects included quality of care, length of wait time, coordination with other physicians, and time with physician).” 
Competition for Patients
Coinciding with shifting preferences for convenience is the proliferation of retail clinics, ambulatory care centers, and concierge medicine. As these options grow in popularity, they increase the pressure on hospitals and traditional healthcare providers in general to improve convenience and the consumer experience. A similar trend is the tendency we all have to research online before making a purchasing decision. Consumers are accustomed to seeing online reviews and information they can use to support wiser investment of their own resources. Providers will increasingly be on the lookout for ways to share more widely valuable, patient-facing information that will help consumers make better choices about not just who their providers should be but about their own care.