Healthcare Consumerism: Supply Chains that Follow the Patient Home

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There’s been a lot of talk about “healthcare consumerism” lately. Is it really about increasing competition among insurance providers? As the acute care market continues to consolidate and vertically integrate, aren't the insurance pickings for most of us getting conspicuously slim, especially if employers are making our coverage decisions?

Here’s where I’ve landed: If healthcare consumer advocates are relying on insurance companies to drive “consumerism,” then they’ve put the cart before the horse. My money is on the jockey, and the jockey in this race is good old-fashioned consumer preference.

The acute care provider is usually its region’s largest employer and the centerpiece of care delivery. While it has shored up its defenses by bridging gaps between inpatient and outpatient settings, most remain laggards when it comes to “dressing” the patient’s home-setting, largely ignoring an exploding consumer market for value-adding health products and services.

And those consumer products and services needn’t be complex. To the contrary, they should be among the most familiar. From smartphones to bed linens, the opportunity for hospitals to orchestrate a far more effective and emotionally satisfying episode of care is hiding in plain sight.

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook says healthcare products could “dwarf” the smartphone market. His point is simple: Just as most of us today would not buy a smartphone without a good camera or GPS, smartphone users will soon expect accurate healthcare functions to be included. Despite the proliferation of modern wearables, physicians continue to prescribe the use of single purpose, obsolete devices that, ironically, transmit data that many read on their smartphones.

The smart phone works fine for them — why not for patients?

For their own safety, as well as patients, increasing numbers of hospital staff are now wearing antimicrobial scrubs and are promoting the idea of antimicrobial bedding for patients. After all, whether in a hospital setting or at home in recovery, many patients spend as much as 23 hours a day in their beds.

Not surprisingly, home shopping juggernaut QVC will be introducing bacteria-killing sheets later this month. The product developer, Asheville, North Carolina-based Beacon Linens, uses a proprietary process for making silver (the active antimicrobial) a permanent, intrinsic part of its “Safe Haven” fabric. But there’s more to this. Beacon Linens did something clever here.

It made a top health care system its launch customer and has included it in its promotions. It’s a marker for a new form of healthcare consumerism that declining reimbursements have made inevitable. And it’s going to help along a relationship between healthcare and e-commerce that has been conspicuously absent.

It’s almost cliche to say that healthcare’s supply chain is extending and fragmenting. The fact is, new supply chains are being created and the distribution logistics (thanks to all things e-commerce) are already in place. Products and services that keep patients emotionally engaged throughout their entire episode of care can enter the continuum and help pull things back together.

Simply put, if hospitals are in the business of promoting health, they need to embrace an approach that follows patients home. If a healthy meal, comfortable bedding and a good internet connection remain tough pills for your local hospital to swallow, then it won’t be around long enough to find that glass of water.

The fact that acute care providers have not taken meaningful advantage of the opportunities associated with e-commerce fulfillment is an oversight, especially in light of patient-centered supply chains.

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