Consumer-Driven Senior Care

In a recent article published in Beckers Hospital Review:   6 Trends in an Era of Consumer-Driven Healthcare, hospital executives were provided with the strategic implications of current and emerging trends in consumerism.  These same trends will undoubtedly impact organizations that provide senior housing, aging services and post-acute/long-term care.  Understanding, analyzing and developing strategies to address the challenges and benefits from opportunities presented by/offered as the Baby Boomer generation begins to hold sway over the healthcare delivery system will be important for both providers, as well as policymakers.  So I thought it might be useful to try and interpret the key themes presented in that article from the perspective of senior housing and care (SHC) organizations.

Key Trend 1: Transparency
The Affordable Care Act specifically focuses on two areas of transparency: the gathering, assembly, analysis and reporting of clinical and operational data by healthcare providers (e.g., provisions found in the Elder Justice Act ~ Sec. 6703 of the Affordable Care Act); and the assimilation of comparative cost/benefit – i.e., value – information and analysis, particularly relating to provider charges and third-party reimbursement of same (e.g., Health Insurance Exchanges).

With or without the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the message here for SHC providers is quite simple: get used to it.  Nay, if you want to be around in another decade, embrace it.  We are accelerating toward a period of time during which provider culture will be predominantly impacted by data-driven marketing, clinical performance, operational efficiency and financial reality.  And the watchdog enforcing voluntary compliance will not be CMS, state governments or private accreditation: it will be your own stakeholders and constituents.

Key Trend 2: Social Media
People talk – and, of course, people with more time on their hands talk more.  Evidenced by the well-documented social mobilization of the 1960s and 1970s – Boomers know how to communicate.  The intriguing, albeit sometimes almost depressing, realities of electronic social networking offer a challenging conundrum to SHC organizations.  Many, if not most, healthcare providers have embraced that reality in one form or another – whether that’s physicians communicating with patients via e-mail, hospitals using online YouTube videos to promote post-discharge wellness education or organizations like MorseLife in Florida developing an iPhone app (the MorseLife All) that connects seniors in its market to their campus.

Connecting in real time, however, carries with it a variety of challenges and opportunities.  The clinical side of healthcare (the side that can save your life) requires a keen sense of discipline and objectivity – two elements largely vacant in much of social media.  But there seems to be very little standing in the way of information – and misinformation – being haphazardly propagated as proxy for clinical expertise via such media.  Consumers recognize this risk, and that will offer an opportunity for SHC providers to be positioned within social media based upon their credibility, expertise and authority.  Recognizing this has important implications for brand management.

Key Trend 3: Consumer Empowerment
The underlying objective of increased transparency, access to comparative outcome analytics and evidence-based healthcare/medicine is, of course, to help position the healthcare consumer to be in a position to better advocate for their own healthcare. The benefits of such empowerment, however, will necessarily be tempered to the extent the targeted audience is unable to take full advantage. As we know, this is often true of a senior population that may face a variety of obstacles (e.g., mobility outside the home, effects of medication, propensity toward dementia). For good or ill, it will likely fall upon SHC organizations to play a proactive advocacy role for many disenfranchised seniors.

And this will put those providers in a potentially perilous position. Being an advocate usually necessitates having a healthy dose of skepticism. It is difficult, at best, to challenge and defend at the same time. It is sort of like playing a game against yourself: you will always win – and lose. But that is what innovation is all about – finding value-added solutions where none were thought to exist. Those organizations that develop innovative approaches to consumer advocacy for the senior population in ways that add value to all stakeholders will find huge competitive advantages in the future.

Key Trend 4: Consumer Expectations
Much has been written regarding the comparative demands of the Boomer Generation relative to previous generations, but demographically we have really only begun to see this manifested where product and service offerings target the 55 – 65 age cohort (e.g., Active Adult communities, age-defying miracle cures and, of course, Harleys).  But where those Boomer consumers have begun to make their mark the evidence of their purchasing sophistication and discernment is compelling.

Boomers demand value.  And as written in this space before, value in healthcare must be understood as providing better patient experiences and outcomes at an overall lower aggregate cost.  So while value is emerging as the driving force of third-party payer expectations (whether that is from employers, private insurers or Medicare/Medicaid), it will also be the driving force of the empowered consumer.  The message for SHC providers is clear: think value first, often and always.

Key Trend 5: Consumer Outreach
The proliferation of electronic communication media offers some very compelling opportunities for SHC providers to “connect” with their targeted markets.  In doing so, however, it is important to recognize how many other sources are competing for the attention of individuals in those markets.  While I recognized that at a theoretical level, this blog has been a firsthand experience of having to reconcile your individual perceptions on the value of content produced with the actual level of interest generated.

As I have been making the point in presentations on Healthcare Reform, if we get everything else right – increasing access, improving affordability, bending the cost curve, expanding the caregiving labor force – but fail to improve upon the overall health and wellness of our society, we will have failed miserably in creating a healthcare delivery system that is sustainable.  SHC providers are very uniquely positioned to leverage the benefits and advantages that electronic media can offer to help improve the overall health and wellness of the senior population in their communities.  And such efforts will find great synergy with other strategic efforts to develop integrated care and home and community-based delivery models.

I think SHC providers have more to gain than lose by being proactive in embracing Consumer-Driven Healthcare.  What do you think?

  ~ Sparky

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