The Future of Medicine is the Patient … err, Customer

Last year, my parents moved house after 40 years. When searching for a new local GP, my 80-year-old father’s first source of information was online reviews he found on Google. Although he’s intelligent and computer-savvy, he’s hardly the stereotype of the typical social-media-obsessed Internet user. And yet even he knew – and used – the power of the tools at his fingertips.

The last few years have seen dramatic changes in healthcare technology – such as 3-D printed organs, smartphone ECG devices, predictive analytics and Big Data, and nanotechnology robotic surgery. But the biggest change in healthcare is the profoundly different relationship between patients and providers.

It’s become a cliché to say healthcare is becoming like a business and patients are acting more like customers. And yet, many healthcare providers don’t understand this profound change in their profession.

Siemens highlighted this in their “Picture the Future” report about healthcare in Australia in 2020: We’re changing focus from cure to prevention, from sickness to wellness, from acute events to chronic diseases, and – most importantly – from patients to customers.

Eric Topol describes this shift in his book “The Patient Will See You Now”. You don’t even need to read the book – the title gives away the punchline.

But, even if you understand it, are you living it?

Healthcare consumers are customers first and patients second, and expect to be treated that way. They expect instant access to information, communication via e-mail and SMS, ownership of their private data, fast response times, and the right to review poor service (and praise exceptional service). They don’t want to sit for hours in germ-filled waiting rooms, no longer automatically trust a white coat and stethoscope, and won’t rely on an opinion from just one healthcare professional.

Deloitte’s Centre for Health Solutions asked patients how comfortable they would feel dealing differently with medical professionals. The results offer a fascinating insight into the modern patient:

  • 60% would be comfortable with video consultations rather than an in-person appointment.
  • 55% were happy to receive medical images (such as x-rays) by e-mail.
  • Almost three-quarters would be happy choosing a treatment online based on advice sent by their medical professionals.
  • Almost three-quarters would prefer e-mail and SMS consultations.

In most other industries, suppliers would be falling over each other to serve these customer needs. In healthcare … not so much, unfortunately. A Price Waterhouse Coopers survey of doctors showed many of them simply will not adopt these practices. Here are their top five reasons:

  • 45% said they have concerns about patients’ privacy and security.
  • Almost as many said they don’t get paid for things like e-mail, SMS and video consults (there’s no CMBS code for it!)
  • One in three said it would be too expensive to implement.
  • About the same number didn’t know enough to make an informed decision.
  • A quarter said it would disrupt their current workflow.

What about you? Are these real reasons for you not to change – or just excuses? It’s always easy to find reasons to say No, but it takes real leadership to say Yes.

I wrote this article for Medical Forum WA, where it appeared in the February 2017 issue. Read the magazine online at

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