shopping-cart-guyI’ve been looking at health care through a retail lens for some time. Perhaps it’s that I’m a rag trader’s daughter, or that I’ve been known to like shopping, that I have clients in consumer goods, or that I understand how tiered drug pricing impacts the consumption of medicines (answer: it’s all of the above).

I’ve just reviewed the latest trend report from PricewaterhouseCoopers and TNS Retail Forward on the future of retailing. My mind is connecting the dots between the future of retail and the American health care consumer. Four future retail trends are already embedding in health care @ retail: In Control, Glocalization, Pervasive Technology, and Consumer-as-Cocreator.

In Control.
PWC and TNS forecast that consumers will be increasingly good at controlling the ways in which they interact with others. According to PWC and TNS, consumer control will come from clout (where consumers exercise collective strength with others), context (when consumers time- and place-shift where and when they interact with marketers) and contacts (enabling consumers, through the use of filtering mechanisms, to grant access only to those with whom they desire to interact). We already see the influence of consumer clout today with patient advocacy; we’re in the Pink Month of October, for example, where the clout of many people has come together to raise awareness for breast cancer. Context control means that consumers will be time- and place-shifting where and when they want to interact. An example would be a patient emailing her physician in the evening after business hours and receiving a response when she looks at her email in the morning.

Glocalization. While we tend to think of health care as a local good, the boundaries around that are changing. We see the growth and legitimacy of medical tourism to the point where The Joint Commission on Accreditation now audits hospitals in Thailand and India frequented by Americans in search of less costly care. Radiology networks are forming to cover digital reading on a 24×7 basis. And all sorts of health information is, of course, accessible by anyone online, anywhere.

Pervasive technology. Health (especially health care) is no stranger to technology. But the pervasiveness of technology in health is upon us. Wireless networks and miniaturization are enabling continuous monitoring for chronic disease management, and standardization is accelerating the development of more pervasive technology in health. Smart agents will play a significant role here.

Consumer as co-creator. Consumers are helping to design new products; see P&G’s approach to new product development involving consumers for more on that future, today. In health care, consumers can be co-creators of health. Yet several external forces often constrain an individual’s ability to co-create health. Among these, third-party
insurance coverage and the traditional physician-patient relationship with its asymmetry of information have prevented consumers from realizing their full potential as co-creators of their own health. Those constraints are loosening. In co-creating health, consumers will use whatever channels and tools they find useful — customizable and personalizable. Consumers diagnosed with a new illness may find themselves involved in R&D with a biopharmaceutical or other research organization — many do now when they consent to be part of clinical trials. These activities will become ever more targeted, personalized and transparent.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: The new retail environment for consumer products has direct implications for consumers in health care. Control, co-creation, technology, globalization…these forces are, together, shaping some consumers’ approach to health in the current market. By 2015, these forces will be part of the health landscape in which providers and marketers will compete, and where patients will behave more like…consumers.