Patient or Healthcare Consumer, It’s One and the Same

In determining the best ways to empower you, I feel step one is to help you understand your role in the game of healthcare—and yes, it’s a game. Your health and wellbeing aren’t a game, but getting payment sorted out sure is! Let’s start by defining the word consumer, which is a person who purchases goods and services for personal use. Now, let’s think about all the ways that you, the patient, consume those goods and services in a medical environment. To make this easier, we’ll start from a more relatable environment: shopping!

When my kids were young, and needed shoes, I would go to Stride Rite. I would usually sit and wait, and if the purchase I made didn’t work out, I was out of luck. Then, one day, I happened to go into Nordstrom and looked at the kid’s shoe department. They carried Stride Rite, at the same price as the stand-alone store, along with many other selections, but there was an even bigger difference: CUSTOMER SERVICE! When you walk into the department, someone greets you, whether they are with another customer or not, and the service is friendly and top notch. They bring you what you asked for but also other suggestions, and the best part is that they want you to be 100% satisfied with your purchase. If for whatever reason, the shoe hurt in a week or two, they said to just bring it back. They had my business from that point on. Why? Because the cost was the same and I was treated well!

You may ask yourself: Why is she sharing her Nordstrom outings with us? Well, the answer is simple. In this example, I was a consumer of shoes for my children, and I took my business from one entity to another because Nordstrom’s customer service was exponentially better. I want to empower you with the knowledge that you can apply your consumer habits in all the other areas of your life as well, such as selecting your medical providers, hospitals, labs, etc.

When my daughter was five, her pediatrician said that she needed to see an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist because she needed tubes in her ears and her tonsils taken out (oh joy). He gave us a referral to see the provider, and I made my appointment—they were not friendly. On the day of her appointment, we entered the office and discovered that the staff were sour and not very informative. After sitting and waiting for over 45 minutes, I asked how much longer it would be. They said they didn’t know, we’d be called when we were called. I grabbed my daughter and my copay and left. We went to a different ENT, and he was her provider of care until we moved away 10 years later.

You have a CHOICE.

Most providers have buddies, colleagues that they favor and have no idea how they or their staff treat patients. My number one rule for whether or not I will give my business to a provider is their staff. You spend the majority of your time dealing with them, and if they are rude, don’t get back to you, or have to ask several times for things, then find somewhere else to care for you. You have the power of the internet—use it. Check reviews on the provider; pay attention to their policies and know your own.

Would you go to a grocery store, clothing store, car dealership, or anywhere else, purchase what they were selling without seeing a price, and then a few weeks later just accept a bill in the mail? Of course not. Then why do you think our society accepts this from our healthcare providers? You are consuming their services and all the while you haven’t a clue what the cost is. Within the industry, Medicare wants transparency for patients and hospitals, and healthcare providers are fighting it—why do you think that is? I will write articles about price transparency soon, but my goal in this article is to help shift your thoughts to consumerism. You are consuming their goods, and I want to help you demand more than what you are currently getting.

Tips:

  • You are your best advocate and should give your business to providers who deserve it.
  • Ask questions:
    • How often does the provider run late?
    • Do they offer price transparency prior to services being initiated?
    • Assess your initial experience:
    • Did you wait for a long time on the phone?
    • Were they polite and helpful when they picked up the phone?
    • Do they get back to you when they say they will?
  • When you are at the health providers’ place of business, ask for pricing before agreeing to services—know what you owe!
  • Ask your provider for a few options when you need referrals to specialists/hospitals/ancillary services, OR do your own research based on reviews and experiences.

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