The Smart Consumer: The More They Know, the Healthier We Will All Be

There was a day when consumers had little awareness or control over what healthcare services they used, much less what they spent. However, the Internet and new technology are changing all that.

With a few clicks of a mouse or taps on a smartphone, we’ve become accustomed to researching symptoms, evaluating prescriptions, and investigating our own diagnoses. More information has meant consumers have more control over their medical decisions and can demand higher quality and better value, which has led the way for continued improvements to the healthcare system.

With rising medical costs continuing in an uncertain economy, it’s more important than ever for Americans to be smart healthcare consumers, paying attention to both the type and quality of care they receive. A 2011 RAND analysis1 found medical costs accounted for about 18 cents of every dollar Americans spend and, over the past decade, healthcare cost growth has wiped out the real income gains of a typical American family. However, Americans can play a significant role in reducing medical costs while receiving quality care by becoming more thoughtful and engaged consumers.

Employers have already started to meet that need, giving employees more benefit options and incentives to participate in wellness activities, and by collaborating with care providers that offer services beyond traditional healthcare, such as educational programs or in-workplace clinics. Meanwhile, care providers are offering databases describing health issues, and offering services and tools that outline best-treatment strategies, clinical evidence and local expert connections.

Health insurers are working to make healthcare more accessible and affordable for customers by helping to improve the quality and coordination of healthcare services, and assisting individuals and their physicians to make more informed healthcare decisions. Most importantly, insurers are offering consumers greater access to information including costs and quality of healthcare services.

For example, online tools, such as UnitedHealthcare’s myHealthcare Cost Estimator, enable consumers to make real-time comparisons on healthcare services. Consumers can access provider ratings, review out-of-pocket cost estimates, search for nearby doctors and hospitals, and view an entire course of treatment from beginning to end.

These types of resources are powerful because they help consumers understand treatment options, compare services and anticipate future costs. With information at their fingertips, consumers are not only making better choices, they’re finding more choices to make.

New technology isn’t the only tool for improving health outcomes and saving money. Consumers can also take charge of their health by participating in preventive-care services such as immunizations, annual physicals, mammograms and colonoscopies, which help to detect possible health risks early.

These are exciting and positive trends in healthcare, and they can lead to results that benefit us individually and as a nation.

Today’s consumers have greater access to information and more choices, which means they’re more empowered to partner with their doctors to make better healthcare decisions.

Smart consumers making informed choices can increase the odds of living a healthier, longer life – and that’s good for all of us.

1 http://www.rand.org/commentary/2012/06/29/USNEWS.html

—Scott Flannery is Chief Executive Officer for the employer and individual market of UnitedHealthcare North Texas.

Posted in Expert Opinions, Wellness.