If a computer salesman told you that you needed an $8,000 systems upgrade, you might walk (or run) out of the store, research everything you could about the necessity of his recommendation, shop around for a better price and then decide whether to make the investment.
But if your doctor told you that you needed an $8,000 exam, not only might you not question it, you'd probably have no idea the test carried such an expensive price tag.
That is changing.
As individuals are asked to shoulder a larger portion of healthcare costs, we in the healthcare industry are told to prepare for "patient-centered care," a new model of healthcare delivery in which patients act more like consumers. Patients will become increasingly discerning about who treats them and ask more questions about the cost and necessity of the types of tests and prescriptions they receive.
We are told that is good news for patients, since they will have a stronger hand in shaping how healthcare is delivered in the near future, particularly when it comes to access and convenience. The marketplace of healthcare will compete the way any industry does — by offering the highest-quality product for the best price in the most convenient way possible.
But to my mind, the customer analogy is far from perfect. Patients are not being asked to upgrade their operating systems. They are being asked to undergo surgery or take medications that can expose them to serious side effects. Treating viruses in your body is not akin to removing viruses from your hard drive, and that's where the consumer analogy breaks down.
The future of healthcare won't just be about dollars and cents, because if it were, what would make healthcare providers more deserving of a person's trust than a computer salesman?
Instead, when I think about patient-centered care, I consider the phrase literally. Gone are the days of one doctor calling all the shots. To my mind, the patient is now the center and captain of a team-based approach to medicine that I believe will become the real standard of high-quality healthcare delivery.
The way this works practically, at least at Hoag, is that at seven clinics throughout Orange County, teams of physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other medical professionals are collaborating with patients to tailor comprehensive, individualized care based on a patient's need or interest.
I am certain that this power-sharing model of patient care will catch on — so much so, that we are offering this approach at clinics for seniors, teens, children and diabetics, as well as at clinics focusing on rheumatology, addiction medicine, familial and genetic disease, HIV, wellness, hormones, skin health and sports medicine.
Working as a team, clinicians are able to give patients the kind of healthcare they need and want, not the fragmented care they traditionally received.
In doing so, we are also responding to the very consumer-like demands of convenience and access. Like that computer salesman, healthcare providers are finding that location is paramount to patients. We also appreciate that people are working harder than ever now and can't afford to dedicate an entire workday to taking a sick child to the doctor. And nobody wants to wait two weeks after receiving a cancer diagnosis to see an oncologist.
That's why hospitals like ours are increasingly offering after-hours care in neighborhood clinics close to where people live and work. The difference in our approach, though, is that these clinics are increasingly built on the principal of collaboration with patients empowered to take control of their own healthcare — rather than serving them like they are customers.
When I consider the future of healthcare, I see our community members as more than savvy coupon-cutters. They are looking for more than the best-priced treatment. They are looking for care.
ROBERT T. BRAITHWAITE is the president and chief executive officer of Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach.