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January 22, 2020
David Burda
Consumerism Innovation Outcomes

A Sign That Health System Leaders Are Starting to Take Their Customers Seriously

As a highly skeptical healthcare business journalist, I tune my radar to look for dark clouds rather than silver linings. But, every once in a while, an unexpected blip appears on my screen. That happened last week when I was reading the results of Deloitte’s latest survey of health system and health plan CEOs.

There is a sign, however faint, that incumbent health delivery system leaders in the U.S. are starting to see their patients and enrollees as customers and take their needs seriously if only to stay in business.

The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions interviewed 25 health system CEOs and six health plan CEOs for its latest Deloitte 2019 Health Care CEO Perspectives Study.  Deloitte released the study on Jan. 17, and you can download it here

Deloitte asked the CEO to rate 10 different “drivers of health care industry change” as either “major,” “minor” or as having “no impact.”

Now, you’d think drivers like vertical integration, new market entrants and technology would top the list. So would I. But they didn’t. In rank order of being a major driver of industry change, the CEO said:

  1. Shift in care setting
  2. Proactive consumers
  3. Quality-based payment methods
  4. Digital transformation
  5. Shift to Medicare and Medicaid
  6. Workforce challenges
  7. Competition from consumer tech
  8. Private equity investment
  9. Focus on prevention
  10. Consolidation

The rest of the study is usual consultant-speak, but that ranking jumped out at me as something big. It told me that health system and health plan leaders, or at least the ones Deloitte interviewed, know that their future depends on providing and financing care in the most convenient and most effective settings because patients and enrollees, as customers, have more choices and will decide where to get care.

“The most innovative CEOs are investing heavily to bring the customer experience in health care closer to the standards set by other industries,” the study said.

Is that really new and genuine? Or, is it something that the CEOs know people want to hear right now? I looked at the results of similar surveys that Deloitte did of health system CEOs in 2015 and 2017 to get a sense of whether things really are changing.  

In the 2015 survey of 19 health system CEOs, which you can download here, “more than half” of the CEOs “agreed that health care is transforming into a consumer-centric model,” Deloitte said. Further, “Re-envisioning the patient as consumer has already begun to change medicine; they expect this evolution will likely continue over the next 10 years,” it said. In short, patients as customers is happening but slowly so I’ll leave it for the next guy to figure out.

In the 2017 survey of 20 hospital and health system CEOs, which you can download here, Deloitte broke the results and its commentary into six chapters. The sixth and final chapter was on “making the business of health care consumer-centric.” Maybe I’m reading too much into the flow of the report, but someone decided to put patients as customers last perhaps as a reflection of what they saw as the lowest of six priorities of their health system executive audience.  

Hey, I could be grasping at straws here, and the blip on my screen could be a crumb from my tuna salad sandwich. But I’m looking for any sign that the people who run our healthcare system with more than $4 trillion in projected annual spending this year finally see serving their customers as their raison d’etre.

Thanks for reading.

About the Author

David Burda

David Burda began covering healthcare in 1983 and hasn’t stopped since. Dave writes this monthly column “Burda on Healthcare,” contributes weekly blog posts, manages our weekly newsletter 4sight Friday, and hosts our weekly Roundup podcast. Dave believes that healthcare is a business like any other business, and customers — patients — are king. If you do what’s right for patients, good business results will follow.

Dave’s personnel experiences with the healthcare system both as a patient and family caregiver have shaped his point of view. It’s also been shaped by covering the industry for 40 years as a reporter and editor. He worked at Modern Healthcare for 25 years, the last 11 as editor.

Prior to Modern Healthcare, he did stints at the American Medical Record Association (now AHIMA) and the American Hospital Association. After Modern Healthcare, he wrote a monthly column for Twin Cities Business explaining healthcare trends to a business audience, and he developed and executed content marketing plans for leading healthcare corporations as the editorial director for healthcare strategies at MSP Communications.

When he’s not reading and writing about healthcare, Dave spends his time riding the trails of DuPage County, IL, on his bike, tending his vegetable garden and daydreaming about being a lobster fisherman in Maine. He lives in Wheaton, IL, with his lovely wife of 40 years and his three children, none of whom want to be journalists or lobster fishermen.

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