Friday, January 25, 2008

How the web is changing healthcare

A few years ago, I worked in marketing for a local hospital system. The growth of the web in general, and WebMD in particular, was already changing the face of healthcare. One significant change was the patient/ physician relationship, which moved from something that looked like this:

  1. Patient chooses physician based on recommendations from family/friends
  2. Patient feels ill/gets injured
  3. Patient schedules appointment with doctor
  4. Doctor diagnoses illness/injury
  5. Patient follows doctor’s orders

To something that looked like this:

  1. Patient chooses physician based on recommendations from family/friends
  2. Patient feels ill/gets injured
  3. Patient surfs the web for information about the illness/injury
  4. Patient self-diagnoses
  5. Patient schedules appointment with doctor
  6. Doctor diagnoses illness/injury
  7. Patient determines whether diagnosis is consistent with what they found on the web
  8. Patient follows doctor’s orders...or asks a lot of questions

On Thursday, NPR did a great story on a new way the web is changing this relationship:

Health consumers are increasingly shopping online for doctors through peer-based sites like FindADoc.com, DoctorScorecard.com, and even local city search sites.

[...]

Health insurance companies have been rating the performance of doctors for years, but consumers seem to prefer the opinion of their peers over a company that might have a financial interest.

WellPoint, the nation's biggest insurer, is apparently paying attention. It recently teamed up with Zagat — famous for its restaurant and hotel guides — to provide a rating system for doctors based on consumer input. According to founder Nina Zagat, the tool allows users to rate doctors on qualities of trust, communication, availability and environment.

This means the patient/physician relationship is evolving again, into something like this:

  1. Patient chooses physician based on recommendations from family/friends AND online reviews
  2. Patient feels ill/gets injured
  3. Patient surfs the web for information about the illness/injury
  4. Patient self-diagnoses
  5. Patient schedules appointment with doctor
  6. Doctor diagnoses illness/injury
  7. Patient determines whether diagnosis is consistent with what they found on the web
  8. Patient follows doctor’s orders...or asks a lot of questions
  9. Patient documents experience on peer-based site
  10. If not satisfied, patient returns to step one

What does this mean for physicians? Well, reputation has always mattered, but intangibles like bedside manner/customer service, the environment of the patient care setting, and wait times will be more important than ever, as subtle differences begin to separate the great from the merely good. If that sounds familiar, it's because it's exactly the type of change that's affecting nearly every organization. The difference with healthcare, of course, is that stakes are much, much higher, so the consumer's willingness to switch is much, much greater.

All of this leads me to two questions:

  • How do you use the web today, if at all, to make healthcare decisions?
  • What services/features would you like your physician—or your hospital, for that matter—to offer on the web?

Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.

1 comment:

KPCOnline said...

I think you are missing a step in the future patient doctor relationship and I'm not sure its a good one.

- Patient doesn't agree with doctor's diagnosis because it doesn't fit with what he found online and seeks second/third opinions until they find a doctor that agrees with them.

The ability to make informed decisions is always good, but self diagnosis can be a very dangerous game.