December 21, 2017 - Australia

Shifting Consumer Expectations in Healthcare - Its an Empowerment Game
  by MinterEllison

How new technologies and changing consumer expectations is signaling disruption to the health industry and the importance of finding ways to better measure and translate patient satisfaction and outcomes.

Do you know if your clinician is doing a good job? What about the track record of your surgeon? Should you be entitled to know as a consumer?

The industry is being disrupted – no longer is the family GP the dispenser of all health advice. New sites like WhiteCoat and RateMds, the ‘TripAdvisors’ of the medical world - and of course social media, are posing great challenges to the long established notion that the 'doctor knows best'.

Patients are becoming increasingly more informed as a consumer. They are seeking greater empowerment and want to know if their provider is doing a good job. What does 'good' look like though? How do we measure the patient experience?

This was one of the topics covered last week at a gathering of 60 public and private health sector representatives at MinterEllison's 'Patients aren’t Widgets' seminar in Melbourne.

The message from the expert panel and the audience was that consumer expectations are shifting, and that empowering the consumer is on the agenda for all in the health sector.

Noelia Boscana, Special Counsel MinterEllison, moderated the panel, which included Graeme Samuel, AC, Chairman of Lorica Health (and former Chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission); Dr Rachel David, Chief Executive Officer, Private Healthcare Australia; and Dr Tanya Pelly, Clinical Integration Lead, Quantium Health Outcomes.

"Establishing cost is a relatively simple process. However, it's difficult to judge quality of health service - unlike retail and other industries where the best product is often quite obvious, healthcare does not give this clarity."

"When I have surgery, I have the hope then when I wake up everything will have gone very smoothly, but how do I judge this in advance, or determine a 'good' job after the surgery?... It's hard for patients to tell if their surgery or health care experience was good - how do we judge it?" continued Graeme.

Health insurers and governments do have the data to help consumers answer these questions, however it is not readily accessible to the consumer.

"For some reason it is considered that consumers wouldn't be able to discern the data or information related to their healthcare, like data for length of stays, return visits, number of surgeries, and hospital survival rates," said Mr Samuel. "England – a highly regulated environment – makes risk adjusted performance statistics available… if it can be done in England it can be done in Australia."

"There is an opportunity today, for health providers to inform patients through their own data, as well as more general evidence and guidelines. Clinicians want to measure the health outcomes of their patients," said Dr Tanya Pelly. "This data often exists, but it needs to be brought together and analysed properly, so it can benefit clinicians and consumers alike."

"Most clinicians want to understand the opportunities of their data and how it is related to delivering good patient outcomes," continued Tanya. "There certainly seems to be a lot of good will from consumers and clinicians to head toward this space."

Without a regulatory shift, empowering consumers poses privacy and defamation challenges to individual providers and reputational damage for organisations. It is an area that requires attention from all serving the sector.

"Consumers deserve to understand qualifications and performance of providers – but being able to provide this information to empower consumers, and changing the ‘doctor always knows best' mindset, won't change overnight," said Dr Rachel David. "Consumer access to data is definitely headlining in the right direction as healthcare providers invest in transparency."

"Collectively, we need to better understand metrics of success; but there is no blanket reporting outcome on what good patient care looks like at this point."

The sector should be aware of consumers growing desire for providers to 'show their cards' and the challenges and opportunities that this will bring to the health industry.