It’s often said, “Americans want the best healthcare someone else will pay for.” Yet as health care costs spiral out of control, individual Americans are paying more and more out of pocket for their health care, as employees have to contribute more to their health insurance costs, and co-pays and deductibles rise. As benefits decrease, patients, employers, and insurance companies are all searching for ways to combat this economic crisis.
What is Consumerism?
We have moved as a nation from being “patients” receiving health care to being “consumers.” Americans, of course, have long been savvy consumers of services—consumerism has been on the upswing across all sectors, including health care. Consumerism is defined as “a movement seeking to protect the rights of consumers by requiring such practices as honest packaging, labeling, and advertising, fair pricing, and improved safety standards.” Consumerism in health care is based on the idea that individuals—not doctors or insurance companies—should have greater control over the decisions about their health care.
The Internet and Consumerism
The best way to become a smart consumer, of course, is to become an educated one. Enter the mighty Internet. There are great websites available today that help patients learn more about their conditions and treatment programs. The problem is, even with a boatload of information about disease, diagnostic tests, and treatment options, even someone with a healthcare background can have difficulty making decisions about what is necessary and what is fluff on the Internet. If a doctor or nurse can’t make head or tails of Internet research, how is the average American supposed to accomplish this? Additionally, individuals still can’t get much information on the pricing and performance of hospitals, doctors and drugs. It’s hard to be an effective shopper if you don’t know what things cost or how the vendors stack up.
Will consumerism significantly impact out-of-control health care costs? In truth, patients’ diagnostic and treatment choices represent a tiny portion of larger healthcare cost. The real money is associated with chronic disease and catastrophes. In those cases, healthcare professionals, not patients, guide the purchasing decisions. That’s exactly as it should be. But even so, individuals are demanding more from their health care and are visiting health care professionals armed with more knowledge and information than ever before.
How Consumerism Impacts Nurses
The role that nurses play in consumerism and health care is still being defined. As health care costs escalate, a greater portion of patient care has fallen to nurses. Chronic disease management has become a nursing specialty, and the demand for nurse practitioners is ever increasing. Nurse practitioners, of course, can handle nearly 90% of all routine health care needs at a fraction of the cost to insurance companies and individuals, and they can also offer patients (or “consumers”) longer appointments and provide more in-depth information—meaning more “bang for the buck.” HMOs and other insurance plans are encouraging patients to choose nurse practitioners as their primary care givers whenever possible. Additionally, nurse midwives are being used more frequently instead of obstricians, particularly as internet-educated pregnant women want to go into their labor and delivery with more “natural” options.
Even in traditional physician-driven health care, nurses are often asked to spend a great deal of time answering patients questions and helping those patients sort internet-provided fact from fiction about their diagnosis. Hospitalized patients often spend more time with their nurses than they do their doctors, so nurses need to be highly educated—and willing to talk—to their increasingly knowledgeable patients.
There is no doubt that the consumerism trend is impacting health care, and nurses will find that their role continues to evolve and change as the rest of the health care field attempts to combat the current health care economic crisis. Once again, nurses find themselves on the cutting edge of care, and will surely find themselves up to the challenge.