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By Laura Montini
Lots of health startups are trying to focus on ideas that will improve the lives of patients with chronic conditions. And, even though patients will ultimately use the technology, companies seem to be designing their products by first asking, “What will health insurers pay for?” It makes sense, assuming that insurers will foot the entire bill for health 2.0 products.
But, maybe they’re not the only ones who are willing to pay.
True, it’s ingrained in Americans that if you have health insurance, your insurer should pay for your medical care. However, recently there’s been more discussion on whether or not patients can be asked to shoulder some of the costs of their care.
Senior Advisor of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Bill Walsh has talked about this in the past. On a panel at the at the 2012 Digital Health Summit, Health 2.0 Chairman Matthew Holt asked Walsh if consumers would be willing to pay for electronic health products.
Walsh said that most AARP members would answer “no” because they’d expect their health plan provider to step in and pay.
But it all depends on how you phrase the question. If you ask patients about a specific product or service that would actually improve their quality of life, they might answer differently.
Walsh said that the number one concern of AARP members as they age is staying independent. It’s such a priority that as many as eight out of 10 members are willing to pay for certain devices that help them live on their own longer, he said. But their interest came only after they were introduced to specific devices — for example, Vitality GlowCaps, a container cap that reminds patients to take their medications.
“What’s remarkable was the response we got,” Walsh said. “They’re like, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t realize that existed.’
“I think what maybe we all fail to realize is the low level awareness among the general population,” he said.
The lack of awareness is due to digital health not hitting the mainstream yet, and it’s one reason patients reject the idea of paying for these products.
Treating patients as consumers
Another reason can also be attributed to the resistance to thinking about patients as consumers of healthcare. In a Harvard Business Review article, Augusta Meill and Gianna Ericson of Continuum argue three main reasons why treating patients as consumers can be a problem.
In short, they say that one, patients don’t seek out healthcare willingly — they only do it when something is wrong. Two, they can’t be expected to make difficult decisions in a time of unusual stress. And three, patients aren’t independent decision makers. They’re part of a complex system of stakeholders.
All of this is true in many cases, but take a specific group of patients, consider its common priority, and see how those three points aren’t necessarily true. An elderly person who wants to continue to live independently:
1. Does comes to the healthcare market willingly, and he’ll seek out a combination of products, like GlowCaps, that will help.
2. Will use certain devices that can equip him for a time of unusual stress. For example, if he takes a fall, a digital alert system will contact a loved one.
3. Isn’t in it alone in making medical decisions, so the systems he uses should be designed with his entire support network in mind.
AARP members are a part of just one consumer group. If innovators take the time to figure out the top needs of other patient populations, they can design usable and useful products.
It’s OK to think of patients as consumers. They’re the ones who can tell innovators what they really want ― and even what they’ll be willing to pay for.