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Perspective

The new health care consumer expects transparency, simplicity and convenience

| Nov 17 2014
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This article was originally published by The Morning Consult.

The business of health care is poised to make a dramatic shift. Projections show that by 2020 the number of people shopping for health coverage independently will approach 52 million. Increasingly, the job of choosing the right health insurance plan will no longer be controlled by Human Resources.

This is a great opportunity –people need to know about their health care and what it costs to be smart consumers. And we know from experience that people who are engaged in their own health decisions tend to be healthier.

Patients have already demonstrated a huge appetite for basic information about health. Consumer health websites have given a generation of parents and aging Baby Boomers an easy way to check health symptoms online before calling their doctor or heading to the emergency room. Over 70 percent of Americans have gone online to look up “health information,” according to Pew Research (up from 59 percent just 3 years ago).

In the new world of health care, people can read doctor reviews, check their health symptoms and hospital safety rankings and a whole lot more. New mobile apps like iTriage can help people check symptoms and even connect a user to a nearby health care provider trained to handle specific issues. The health care information highway is wide open.

We only have to look at what’s happened in the retail world to know the implications are tremendous. Eighty percent of consumers start their shopping online before making a major purchase. Health care has not traditionally worked this way. It’s pretty much been, “Doctor says; patient does.” Most patients have either lacked the information or encouragement to participate in conversations about the financial aspects of their care.

As consumers engage in the long-overdue conversation about health care costs, health insurers like Aetna welcome and support this change by offering online tools and apps that put more information and resources directly into the hands of consumers. For example, Aetna’s online price comparison tool has seen an average of more than 141,000 hits per month this year, a 39 percent increase over 2013, and has recorded more than 4 million hits since it was launched in April 2010.

But it’s not just about cost. The entire process of buying health insurance is also changing. Health insurance exchanges, marketplaces that allow buyers to compare and purchase different health insurance plans, offer a whole new way to access the health care system. Most people are familiar with the U.S. public exchange on healthcare.gov. There are also private exchanges, which can help simplify administration and make it easier for employers to offer more benefit choices to their employees.

Regardless of what they are buying, consumers want an experience that is simple, affordable and convenient. Why shouldn’t health care be the same?