Here is a major and underappreciated problem with healthcare, particularly from the patient’s perspective: it’s not fun. Not at all.
I’m not suggesting that going to the doctor’s office, having a screening colonoscopy, or getting your annual mammogram should be like going to Disney or Las Vegas, or opening gifts on Christmas morning, but why can’t healthcare strive to be just a little fun?
Why? Well, this is not rocket science, but human beings are more likely to engage with things they find enjoyable. And often, it’s the little things that make an experience enjoyable. The payback could be significant: a patient who is more engaged and compliant with health recommendations is more likely to be a healthy—and less expensive—patient.
Imagine this scenario. You are a sixty year-old woman who works for a large corporation, and you work hard. You have high cholesterol and glaucoma. You dislike seeing your doctor, getting your blood drawn, having an eye exam, and picking up your refills at the pharmacy. In fact, you often have to be reminded more than once to make your next doctor’s appointment (and you sometimes skip altogether), you delay getting your blood drawn, and you’re frequently several days late to pick up your medications at the pharmacy, going without medication for an extended time period.
The fact that you are not engaged is not good for your health. Poor compliance in the high cholesterol category makes you more prone to heart attack and stroke. Poor compliance in the glaucoma category makes you more likely to suffer visual loss or blindness. These are expensive complications.
You are not a rare patient. Medication compliance with cholesterol and glaucoma medications—and most medications for chronic conditions—is shockingly poor, despite the longer-term health risks. (See my prior posts for further insight into why compliance is so poor.)
But now consider this twist. Let’s pretend that all constituencies in healthcare—doctors, hospitals, employers, insurers, pharmaceutical companies, pharmacies, etc.—join forces to make the patient experience more pleasant, maybe even a little fun.
Now, for the first time, when you leave your ophthalmologist’s office after your eye exam, the receptionist hands you a $10 Starbucks gift card and says, “Enjoy! Courtesy of your health plan.” You enjoy a latte on your way home.
The next month, as you leave the blood draw station after your routine cholesterol test, the phlebotomist hands you a lottery scratch ticket and says, “Your employer wants to thank you for following through. Good luck!” You put down your purse right there, take out a penny, and scratch the card, hoping to win $20, or even the $5,000 prize. The other patients in the waiting room cheer you on. You’re not a winner this time, but you look forward to that chance at your next visit.
A couple weeks later, you stop by the pharmacy and pick up your refills. “Congratulations,” your pharmacist beams. “Enjoy these rewards for refilling on time.” He hands you a $15 Amazon gift card, sponsored by the maker of your glaucoma drops, and a 20% discount coupon for your local Whole Foods, sponsored by the maker of your cholesterol medication. He also holds up a basket of sugar-free lollipops, with another smile. You take one, and feel like a kid again.
Granted, this is not exactly Disney or Las Vegas, but doesn’t it sound kind of nice? Wouldn’t it make healthcare just a little less of a bitter pill?
Financially speaking, this could actually work. It pays to reward people for taking better care of themselves, whether from the perspective of an employer or insurer hoping to cut costs, or a pharmaceutical company hoping to boost drug efficacy, outcomes, and revenues. Regardless of the industry incentive, patients are the main beneficiaries, with better health.
Although some people might be offended by the blatant consumerism of such approach, or feel that there is no place for fun and games in healthcare, I suspect most people would be perfectly happy to oblige, and to reap the rewards.