RSNA: Healthcare consumerism--A force to reckon with

CHICAGO—Radiologists should prepare for an era of increased consumerism in medicine where individuals will drive the market, according to a Nov. 27 presentation at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Typically, the culture in medicine has been one where physicians believe they know what’s best for the patient, said Richard Duszak, MD, of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis. This is a different paradigm from how other professions operate, where clients drive more of the decision-making process. “The word consumerism, I think, really bothers a lot of physicians,” said Duszak.

But healthcare consumers are taking a more active role and shopping around. Debra Richman, senior VP of healthcare business development and strategy for Harris Interactive said this year there was an increase in the number of consumers who switched health plans. “In a more individual oriented marketplace, there’s a lot of flexibility, there’s probably less loyalty, and there’s a lot of ability to move.”

Richman said survey conducted by Harris showed that while cost was the biggest concern of consumers, quality, service and brand were also considerations. “We’re increasingly seeing consumers very interested in electronic interface with their providers,” she added.

Christine Hughes, advocacy research leader for GE Healthcare, listed a number of harbingers that marketplace forces are becoming stronger within radiology. Vendors are paying more attention to the patient experience, and consumer review sites, such as Angie’s List, are offering coupons for imaging services.

Since radiologists have typically worked in a physician-to-physician model, the general public has little understanding of the value radiologists bring. “It’s made the radiologist the invisible hero in the patient care chain and they really deserve to be out there,” said Hughes. The American College of Radiology’s Face of Radiology campaign is aimed at helping spread understanding of radiology to consumers in an evolving market. Hughes pointed to an October study from Harris Interactive showing that 40 percent of patients find the reputation of the radiologist “very important” in where they seek services, while 38 percent placed the same importance on seeking out practices where radiologists deal directly with patients—both results indicated the Face of Radiology campaign is having an effect, according to Hughes.

Empowering consumers to make decisions themselves will lead to better decisions, and possibly reduced use of low-value services, added Stephen Bonner, president and CEO of Cancer Treatment Centers of America. “There’s so much change going on…there are a lot of crosscurrents and undercurrents and things that we don’t think are wise, but in the end the consumer will drive the industry and wisdom will reign,” he said. “The question is how do we want to participate in enabling that to happen?”