“The health care buffet is over,” according to Christopher Parks of change:healthcare, who spoke at last week’s Health 2.0 Conference.

There’s evidence that Americans have been adapting to an à la carte health world. While there actually is a company called à la carte health care, part of Allianz, the global insurance company, I’m not talking about them here.

Consider the term, à la carte. It comes from the French, meaning ‘from the card.’ Where in health is there a ‘card’ from which to order services?

A kind of à la carte menu can be found at, say, Minute Clinic, as shown at right. It’s clear what you can pay for a flu shot, or vaccine for your child.

The Nielsen Company has learned that Americans consider “price” and “value” more than global peers when it comes to buying over-the-counter health products.

Nielsen partnered in a global survey with the Association of the European Self-Medication Industry (AESGP), analog to the U.S. Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA). AESGP’s tagline is, “Self-care: The first choice in health care.”

30% of Americans consider price important for OTCs; 17% of people outside the US consider price important.

25% of U.S. citizens look at value-for-money; 15% of global citizens do.

These U.S. statistics for OTCs can be seen in the collective American embrace of generic prescription drugs, which comprised 65% of prescriptions dispensed in 2007 and only 21% of prescription drug sales. More on this topic can be found in the Kaiser Family Foundation report, Prescription Drug Trends, published in September 2008.

3 in 4 FDA approved drugs have generic equivalents. A growing number of industry analysts predict that in 2009, Congress will sort out legislation to allow FDA approval of generic substitutes for brand name biologic drugs. This designation would further fuel growth in the generic prescription volumes.

Part of “value” in OTC shopping is whether a consumer believes the product is effective and safe. Nielsen found that, “Safety
clearly is top of mind, particularly now with the recent intervention by the FDA in prescription and OTC medication. OTC manufacturers need to do a really good job of communicating the safety of their products in light of this.”

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Consumerism is the burden of empowerment. This is a major strand in the research of Roma Harris, the Vice Provost at the University of Western Ontario. Dr. Harris was an early proponent of using e-health tools to empower patients; here is one of her seminal papers on the topic.

As Americans increasingly take on the mantle of “consumer” in health, they need information on not only price, but friendly, usable knowledge about effectiveness and safety. Some of this exists for drugs and devices, although clearly, not enough.

What about information about health providers on safety and effectiveness? New services are being developed by the likes of HealthGrades, which has had a decade+ worth of experience in building databases on providers and will expand this information in the coming months. OrganizedWisdom has launched its service for Health Provider Wisdom Cards. And other provider ratings services were unveiled last week at the Health 2.0 Conference including Angie’s List Medical, HealthWorldWeb, and Consumer Aware (home of TheHealthCareScoop).

Look to these, and more emerging, organizations to provide much-needed knowledge on providers in our ever-morphing, à la carte health nation.