If you are one of the many Americans who believe that the purpose of healthcare is to keep you healthy, you might want to consider the following: most of the American healthcare system is comprised of for-profit businesses. Their top priority is making a profit, and your health falls somewhere below #1 on their list. You may think that your well-being is a top concern for those caring for you, and most care providers are caring people who want to help you. Still, depending on the organizational and business structure of the institution, or the contractual obligations of the individual care provider, your needs may get pushed further down the list of priorities than you may realize. To get the most individualized care that best matches your needs you need to become a savvy healthcare consumer.
Common business practices translate into healthcare activities because of the profit motive inherent in the system. Upselling is common, especially when technology is involved. For example, fancy tests, such as MRIs, ultrasounds, and CAT scans are used when other lower tech, lower cost tests may be available. Often, these tests become viewed as standard of care simply because they are so commonly used, even if they may not improve health outcomes. When the test is offered to you, it might be done in such a way that you don’t even realize there are other options, or that you have the choice to decline the test. Savvy consumers ask questions to learn why they are being offered the test, what the doctor expects to find, what the next steps will be if test results come back indicating further action is necessary, if there are any alternatives to the test, and what options exist if you decline the test.
Another way upselling is translated into the healthcare setting is through costly procedures. High technology comes at a cost, which is passed on to the patient. Again, the use of fancy machines does not necessarily translate into better health outcomes. When a hospital purchases expensive equipment, such as a da Vinci robotic surgery apparatus, which costs around two million dollars, they must recoup the costs. Robotic surgery is several times more expensive than traditional open surgery or laparoscopic surgery, and doesn’t necessarily deliver better results. Yet, hospitals buy the equipment to compete with other hospitals in the area and to satisfy customer demand. You, as a savvy consumer, can learn whether upscale, more costly procedures are likely to overshoot your medical needs or budget by doing research about the procedure, and comparing techniques, outcomes, and costs at various institutions.
You gain control to get your needs met when you, as a savvy healthcare consumer, approach your care with a business mindset. Gone are the days of handing your health and your trust completely over to folks in the white coats. They, like you, are on the front lines of a massive system in which the individual’s needs often take a back seat in the juggernaut of the corporate engine. Research and dialogue to gain true informed consent are your best tools. Use them to get care that’s appropriate, in cost and in outcomes, to your individual needs.
Michal Klau-Stevens is a professional speaker and healthcare consumer advocate. She is a maternity consultant, pregnancy coach, and expert on consumer healthcare care issues, Past President of BirthNetwork National, a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and mother. Her website is TheBirthLady.INFO. Find her on LinkedIn and on Facebook at The Birth Lady page!