I often get asked: “what is the latest trend in health care?” For me, the next big thing in our industry—consumer driven care—has already arrived.

When I say consumer driven care, by that I mean, as patients become increasingly responsible for the cost and choice(s) of their care, they are becoming much more invested in what is available to them and are taking a more active role as consumers of their own health care.

But in this day and age, not all patients are the same. In order to continue to deliver affordable quality care and remain competitive in the health care industry, we have to understand the complexities, needs and desires of each specific segment of the patient population and be flexible enough to cater to them.

Today, we have three distinct types of patient consumers—the chronically ill, the elective patient and the healthy adult/young family/healthy older person. The chronically ill are the easiest to define in terms of care and services. We know how to treat them, offering highly acute care when needed and providing lower cost long-term care management when possible. These patients will have a lasting one-on-one interaction with a health care professional, ideally a physician or chronic disease specialist.

Then there is the elective patient. These are patients who have relatively well managed chronic conditions or who need specific care for a prescribed amount of time.  Their health care interactions will center around enhanced primary care offices or specialized facilities. These patients have more choice in terms of care and are looking for a more integrated system of care model for their health care delivery. As providers, we should strive to provide high quality care, avoid excessive spending and do our best to keep them from moving into the chronically ill category.

The final and largest segment of our population are the healthy adults or young families and/or older healthy adults. This population is healthy and focused on ease and affordability. They seek more options and multiple access points at which to experience the health care services they need most. They will have limited in-person interaction with the health system—and their entry point will most likely be through a patient portal. As such, they instinctually connect their health care journey with technology. Whether through apps or health tracking devices, they have much of their own health care data at their fingertips.

Because these patients have less one-on-one interaction with their providers, we must build loyalty with them in other ways. We must provide highly accessible points of service for care and offer them mechanisms for tracking health care information. This data will allow us to target their needs as well as have the data necessary to better treat them when they are sick. Finally, we must find ways to keep these well patients engaged. This means marketing things like our wellness services, the affordability of our services and quality of our customer service.

In today’s health care marketplace, understanding who our patients are will go a long way towards providing the best care. Don’t you agree?

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