The patient dynamic and our approach to our own healthcare is changing as Catherine Elms, senior research director at Future Thinking, explains…


In the UK, 70% of us consider ourselves to be in good health and we’re nearly all satisfied with the care we are receiving.
That may be surprising if you’ve been reading the newspapers recently. In the last 12 months, c.90% of us visiting our GP or a specialist Healthcare Professional (HCP) have been satisfied with the service (indeed, mostly ‘very satisfied’), as have nearly all those consulting a pharmacist or nurse.
However, despite our general satisfaction with the care provided, we’re still concerned about how well equipped the healthcare system is to provide quality yet affordable healthcare, particularly with demand on, as well as expectations of the quality of, delivered healthcare. As revealed by our research, only 26% consider the UK healthcare system to be in good/excellent shape (mostly just ‘good’).
Community pharmacists sit on the front lines of healthcare provision, its healthcare professionals being the most easily accessible to the general public. And as the healthcare system struggles with an ageing population, the role of the local pharmacist is becoming more important than ever, helping to ensure everyone has access to good quality healthcare.
Meanwhile patients are leading increasingly busy lives. Does anyone really want to spend their time sitting in a waiting room for hours on end, let alone waiting for several days, or weeks, for a GP appointment in the first place? We’re finding ourselves increasingly less tied to our ‘family GP’ and open to shopping around for what works best for us, whether it’s greater convenience or more advanced treatments.
So what does this mean for changing the patient dynamic and our approach to our own healthcare?

How we choose treatment approaches
Our health is a highly emotive topic. For common healthcare needs, such as simple pain management, cough and cold, or mild infections, the purchase category is generally pre-planned, and the consumer is the primary decision-maker.
Often they show an increased preference for conventional options, including choosing to use brand names over own-brand options. The response is to a specific health need, usually based on severity and frequency of suffering as well as perceived product efficacy. Pharmacists are often a first port of call in these cases, with the consumer usually having the type of treatment they are looking for already in mind, but with the added reassurance of expert, trusted advice on hand.
However, for other symptoms with which we are not familiar, are prolonged, or concerning, other sources of healthcare information and treatment options are key.
With health issues that concern us the most, our GP is still the main port of call for seven in ten. However, seeking help via web searches came in at a close second with two-thirds consulting Dr. Google. Building knowledge and developing our own understanding is clearly a key part of the patient journey as we seek to become more informed and autonomous.

We’re not merely patients…we want input into decision-making about our health
As further proof of this, nearly six in ten of us prefer to make our treatment decisions in consultation with our HCP. A quarter of us look for the HCP to solely decide and one in ten decide without direct HCP input.
As we look further ahead, it is likely that consumers will become an increasingly core part of the diagnosis and treatment journey.
This is being driven in particular by the rise of the ‘quantified self’. With smart technology and increasingly real-time health monitoring, the consumer is becoming a greater source of information for both self-diagnosis and as a source of information for healthcare professionals.
For community pharmacists, this is a trend that should be encouraged. The more data you have available on your consumer, the more effective diagnoses and treatments are likely to be.

The future healthcare consumer
It makes sense then, with increasing demand on healthcare resources and finite budgets available, that technology and social media are likely to play an increasing role in the patient journey, particularly as we are willing to adopt self-pay routes for faster, more time-convenient diagnoses and treatments.
This impact of technology is seeing pharmaceutical companies engaging with consumers on social media, as well as an increasing number of online and smartphone app consultation and prescription services available for example, or the Babylon Health app. These online solutions provide the benefit of immediate service (within 1 hour), meeting the needs of our on-demand lifestyle, through paid-for for consultations or smaller monthly subscription fees.
While these have come under fire lately for ‘freely prescribing antibiotics’, others argue there is clearly a place for them, claiming 70% of people’s problems are able to be solved on the phone without going to the doctor’s surgery or the community pharmacy.

What does this mean for healthcare businesses?
As we turn from ‘patient’ to ‘consumer’, understanding the consumer mindset when it comes to healthcare decision-making, and their needs and wants from manufacturers and professionals, will be increasingly important.
Organisations need to provide the information, products, and services that will help support the medical learning and self-diagnosis journey for consumers, to help them make informed, confident decisions and receive prompt diagnosis and treatment for their healthcare needs.
This can include activities such as determining what are the key touchpoints driving decision-making for relevant symptoms and conditions (and how you can win at each more effectively), through to how to take consumers on a new healthcare purchase journey.
For pharmacists, this is a significant opportunity for enhancing the service offered to consumers. Technology and social media can streamline the process of diagnosis and treatment, with consumers having greater awareness of themselves and the options that are out there. We need to embrace the fact that consumers are increasingly curious about and engaged in the process of managing their health, and make the most of it by offering the best service. Indeed, community pharmacists in particular are in a unique position to meet both consumer and patient needs, by providing a highly convenient, efficient, and expert response to both our emotional and rational needs.

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