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At iHT2-Toronto, a Strategic Leader Calls on Healthcare Executives to Rethink the Consumer

September 21, 2016
by Mark Hagland
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Dr. Snowdon urged iHT2-Toronto attendees to imagine how consumerism will transform healthcare

At the Health IT Summit in Toronto, sponsored by the Institute for Health Technology Transformation (iHT2—a sister organization to Healthcare Informatics under the Vendome Group corporate umbrella), Anne Snowdon, R.N., Ph.D., professor of strategy and entrepreneurship and chair of the World Health Innovation Network, in the Odette School of Business at the University of Windsor (Ontario), on Sep. 21 urged healthcare leaders to rethink how they see consumers in North America and beyond.

Speaking on the topic “Consumer Trends Driving Innovation in Healthcare,” Dr. Snowdon told her audience on Wednesday morning at the Omni King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto, that healthcare leaders from Canada, the United States, and everywhere, need to be rethinking how they perceive healthcare consumers, given rapidly unfolding social and technological change.

The broader context of this situation, Snowdon told her audience, is that the healthcare industry remains enmeshed in a very different mindset from that shared by executives in other industries. In particular, she noted, consumers are calling the shots in so many consumer-facing industries now, in which owning physical assets has melted away as a strategic advantage. “Think about it,” she said: “Uber is the largest taxi company in the world that doesn’t own any vehicles; Airbnb is the largest provider of accommodations, that owns no housing. And Alibaba, the largest seller of consumer goods, owns no stock, while Facebook, the largest provider of digital content, relies on users to provide that content.” The business and operating models in many of those industries are changing very dramatically now, she noted. Even in healthcare, we are seeing the first glimmers of a trend towards consumers driving some dynamics in the industry.

Anne Snowdon, R.N., Ph.D.

For example, she noted, there is an online group for patients with a wide range of diseases called “PatientsLikeMe,” and, she noted, “they’re running their own clinical trials.” (As explained on its website, “PatientsLikeMe is a patient network that improves lives and a real-time research platform that advances medicine. Through the network, patients connect with others who have the same disease or condition and track and share their own experiences. In the process, they generate data about the real-world nature of disease that help researchers, pharmaceutical companies, regulators, providers, and nonprofits develop more effective products, services and care. With more than 350,000 members, PatientsLikeMe is a trusted source for real-world disease information and a clinically robust resource that has published more than 60 peer-reviewed research studies.”) Not surprisingly, Snowdon noted, the opening up of healthcare processes to strong participation could provide “an interesting opportunity, though it could also be your worst nightmare on privacy and security.”

In any case, Snowdon told her audience, “Let’s talk about the consumer shift. When I went to nursing school and then spent a number of years in pediatric clinical care, it was a pretty compelling experience, and it was a very different time. We clinicians were trained to be the experts. We had all the knowledge, and we worked with patients and families,” as the undisputed authorities over their care. “Those days are gone,” she said. “Now, our consumers and patients are coming into clinical settings with ‘Dr. Google,’” she said, referencing the huge amount of online research that patients are engaging in before they interact with clinicians before physician and outpatient visits and inpatient stays.

“But we were never trained as clinicians to do negotiations with patients,” Snowdon continued. “No one ever taught me how to negotiate a contract; but that’s essentially what we’re doing now. The patient is coming in thinking, are you the right clinician for me? If not, I’ll go elsewhere. And 50 percent of our nurses in Canada are 50 years or older. And so they were educated for the pre-Internet world. This is not the healthcare system we thought we were going into as clinicians.”

Yet now, a new world is emerging, and that is one that will become increasingly consumer-driven, Snowdon said. She noted that Canadians are spending 45 hours per month online and 7 days a year on Facebook, while Americans are already spending 165 hours per month online, and 40 minutes a day on Facebook. Meanwhile, 56 percent of Canadians have a smartphone, and 79 percent of those who do, say that they would not leave home without it, while 90 percent of Americans have a smartphone, and 29 percent say that they couldn’t live without their smartphones.

What’s more, Snowdon told her audience, “The divide between the online world and [institution-based] healthcare has been growing. In 2012,” she noted, “44 million unique healthcare apps were downloaded. Searching for health information is now the third most popular online activity for all Internet users 18 and older. And,” she added, “as of 2012, there were over 97,000 health applications—with many more developed since then.”