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Healthcare Providers as Health Managers: Convenience Issues

by Scott MacStravic

Traditional healthcare providers, including hospitals and physician practices have long had an “edifice complex”, expecting patients to come to them for necessary services, to rely on face visits for communications and interactions.  Even today, only a modest proportion of physicians permit online communications with their patients, for example.  Hospitals have relocated or added locations in suburbs rather than the old-fashioned “pill hill” centrality in major cities, but are still losing patients to more conveniently located ambulatory surgery centers and specialty hospitals that established convenient locations earlier.

Convenience of location, hours of availability, and communications is even more important in health management, whether aimed at providers’ own employees or the workforces of employers that are clients for revenue-generating HM programs.  The U.S. Preventive Medicine, Inc. models of “Centers for Preventive Medicine” rely on hospital locations for most of the services they offer, though participating physician “partners” increase the number of locations where patients can obtain services. (www.USPreventiveMedicine.com)

The many hospitals and a few physician practices that offer “executive health” HM programs, which are still the most common example of hospital ventures in this market, almost all offer their major program elements at their own sites, requiring a one-day or longer stay.  While this stay is usually in luxurious surroundings, with “concierge” services to help make it easier for executive and other affluent clients to wend their way through the program, it is still necessary to come to a single location in most cases.  Until recently, most clients had to manage their own lifestyle changes, perhaps with the help of their personal physician back home, though many programs now offer phone coaching follow-up between stays.

By contrast, employers that offer their own HM programs often make them available at the worksite, with a growing number of onsite health clinics that include HM along with traditional occupational health services.  Retail clinics, conveniently located in popular superstores and pharmacies, offer HM services where consumers often shop, and even enable customers to shop while waiting, until a pager notifies them that the provider is available.

HM vendors often offer convenient “kiosks”, where HM participants can have parameters such as weight, body fat and blood pressure checked, in retail stores or worksites, in order to track their progress and qualify for incentive rewards.  Virgin Life Care offers such kiosks (“HealthZone” – www.virginlifecare.com) as does IncentaHealth (www.incentahealth.com).  IncentaHealth also offers daily online coaching for weight loss and fitness improvement.

In the IncentaHealth example, its services are offered mainly through employer-sponsored programs, though it also offers consumer-paid coaching through the New West Physicians in Denver and its Physician Health Coach program.  Participants get physician health recommendations, then IncentaHealth coaching for only $20 per month while they participate.  While these programs are limited to weight management and physical activity, these represent two of the most common health challenges that consumers have.

Whether providers are sponsoring HM programs for their own employees (and dependents, perhaps), for other business clients and their employees, or both – the programs are generally free to participants.  This means that the convenience dimension, i.e. the time and effort required of participants is the major cost to them.  Making it as easy as possible for people to participate, at times and places they find most convenient to participate, with communications channels and timing that fits best into their normal routine, is often the major factor determining the extent of both their participation and success.

Traditional healthcare providers’ insistence on patients coming to their places of business, at limited days and times of access, and communications at providers’ convenience will simply not work in HM, nor can it compete with specialized HM vendors who have already recognized and responded to consumers’ expectations.  Providers wishing to engage as many employees or other consumers as possible, and to promote their continuous and enthusiastic participation, will have to adopt a host of non-traditional convenience tactics in order to compete in the HM market, or achieve optimal results with their own workforce.

As the “new consumerism” increases the power of individuals and their importance in healthcare in general, traditional healthcare providers are already recognizing and responding to increasing consumer demands for greater convenience, even in traditional sickness care.  Providers must be prepared to make even greater improvements in convenience if they hope to achieve optimal results for themselves and their clients in HM, as well.

1 Comment »

  Brian Baum wrote @ August 22nd, 2007 at 9:12 am

Convenience and consolidation are definitely two key elements in addressing the needs of consumers relative to health management. Simplicity is yet another. Unfortunately – most health consumers have very little “bandwidth” available to dedicate to their own health management or even that of their family. For individuals that consider themselves “healthy” this focus is even further diminished. So the challenge then becomes not only providing convenience in access to care, but also simplicity in how the care is packaged.

For the individual that is motivated to be proactive in managing their health – a clear cut packaged offering is key to satisfying their needs/interests. If we approach healthcare as other consumer oriented services we would quickly recognize that the consumer cannot be the intermediary – sorting out options relative to assessing their health and subsequently identifying appropriate courses of treatment or support to address any health challenges or risk factors they may have, and then further sorting out what sources are available and picking the solution that best meets their needs. There have been extensive studies to indicate that even when clinically diagnosed – the “patient” has as bad as coin toss odds of being prescribed the clinically appropriate protocol of treatment. If this is the case for a clinical diagnosis of condition, then for the proactive consumer that simply wants to address risk factors – one can only imagine the lack of consistency in recommendation for the appropriate path to mitigate or manage their risk factors effectively.

I appreciate your recognition of U.S. Preventive Medicine in your post. What we are doing to address the convenience, consolidation and simplicity factors is to package a total consumer prevention experience. The Centers that you reference are one element of our delivery model. The Centers leverage resources within a provider and create a consumer oriented experience in delivering a complete experience. The Prevention Plan™ that we are introducing will also bundle a complete experience – from health assessment to intervention strategy into one experience. This can be delivered anywhere at anytime – and will be available through their employers as a direct purchase – affordable to all.

Prevention and proactive health management – must be engaging, enjoyable and deliver tangible results. We look forward to brining our services to a market where consumers have been conditioned to expect “complete and organized” solutions or experiences.

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