A Charles Schwab TV commercial caught my attention recently. In it, a couple continuously asks questions about a wide range of decisions: what siding material to use for their house, what food to get at the grocery store, what school is best for their daughter. Yet, when their investment advisor advocates a switch to a new fund, they pause for only a split second before saying, “OK”…and not questioning a thing! The point Schwab is making so artfully is that even though investing may be a bit “black box,” isn’t it ridiculous that investors don’t ask more questions about how their wealth is being managed, especially given how fundamentally important it is to their livelihood and long-term goals.
Watching this, we should have the same “a-ha” about healthcare, another arena with a similar black box feel and significant impact on our livelihood. Until recently, consumers haven’t been encouraged to ask questions about their care and their choices, other than perhaps to get a better understanding of what to expect physically during and after a procedure or course of treatment. Fortunately, I think that is changing, although not yet with universal support.
We’re So Hung Up On Certain Words
I have been troubled by a post I saw earlier this month, where it seemed the author was arguing that consumerism doesn’t belong in healthcare, and that it is particularly inappropriate for complex or serious healthcare situations because not enough data exists. While I do agree there are some limitations to consumer-driven decision-making, particularly given what tools and information do and don’t exist today, I don’t think it should be dismissed entirely.
There are many cases where treatment options and protocols are fairly standardized, and specialized training isn’t necessarily needed. Many minor illnesses and injuries fall into this category – think ear infections, strep throat, sprains and strains, etc. In these situations, as I’ve argued before, it seems logical that consumers should shop around to find providers and treatments that are lower cost and more convenient, yet fully effective.
Even in more serious cases like cancer or major surgery, consumers can and should be asking more questions. Granted, all of the data may not exist for them to make decisions based primarily on cost and quality, but there is no reason they shouldn’t be taking more interest in their care and treatment options and pushing providers for more cost and quality information.
Not Having All the Answers Doesn’t Mean We Should Give Up
Just because it may not be possible to get all the answers doesn’t mean we should avoid asking the questions. If you’re like me, you may even find it embarrassing that we spend more time researching and shopping for a car or a computer (or even a camera) than we do for our care. Not only do we look at data, but we often also ask others about their experience, consider the reputation or brand of the manufacturer or vendor, look at certifications, and a whole host of other factors.
I don’t think “consumerism” in healthcare should be considered a dirty word – especially not when we factor in how important good healthcare choices are in our lives. It’s time for all of us as consumers to start asking questions – just the way we do in the other areas of our lives.