Who Qualifies as a "Consumer" for Healthcare?
Recently I authored an e-newsletter that ruffled some feathers at the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF). I wrote that the NPSF's recent report on consumer engagement only included five (5) consumers on the 37 person steering committee...roughly 13 percent. Pretty paltry in my eyes, especially for a report about consumer engagement! The NPSF shot back and said no, the panel actually had 14 consumers! Still not even close to 50 percent! The link for my original e-newsletter is below. Casting aside the tit-for-tat battle over numbers and appearance, this is an important discussion because we need more consumer input in healthcare. But, how exactly do you define "consumer?" What makes a person a consumer? And aren't we all consumers of healthcare?
Well, yes, we are all consumers of healthcare, but not all consumers are alike! Moreover, healthcare needs more input from "rank and file" consumers as opposed to healthcare executives who have a family or personal experience with bad care. This is where NPSF and I disagree about the numbers and the point of this column: NPSF counted an additional nine people because their panel had some healthcare professionals who had their own personal stories with healthcare. I didn't count these folks as true consumers.
Now, don't get me wrong, healthcare executives who have family or personal experiences with bad care can be powerful people. They can be true agents within healthcare. From the perspective of disclosure, I have written in the past that docs and nurses who have personally experienced cover up following a medical error can be some of our most effective advocates. However, I've never written that these same people can be put on a committee and labeled as "consumers."
A true consumer is someone who is from outside healthcare and is not depending on healthcare for a paycheck. A true consumer will often tell you exactly what they think, whether you want to hear it or not. A true consumer is not desensitized to all the problems in healthcare nor are they willing to put up with these problems "because that's just the way it is." A true consumer is not worried about pissing off a certain Vice President or fellow physician. And so on and so forth.
Look it at this way....when a Fortune 500 company does a consumer focus panel they get 10 or 12 customers in the room and let them speak their mind. This is how products and services are improved or shelved. If, however, the healthcare industry was running a focus group for the Ford Motor Company this would be the composition of that focus group: 7 Ford Engineers who happen to drive Ford cars, 2 Ford marketing managers, two Ford Vice Presidents, and one person who is not connected with the company is any way (aka the real consumer). Follow? Tell me which panel is going to give more authentic and valuable feedback to the Ford Motor Company? Which panel will have consumer driven conversations and which panel will sound like "inside baseball?"
Healthcare needs to stop being afraid of engaging consumers. Don't be afraid to get honest and sometimes uncomfortable feedback. To do that, you need real consumers!
For hospitals and other healthcare organizations, increase the number of true consumers on committees and panels. Moreover, for hospitals, I strongly suggest developing patient/family councils which are populated in large majority (or entirely) by consumers.
Here is the link to the original e-newsletter about the NPSF's report: http://sorryworksblog.net/?p=703.