Self-Care Is The Real Healthcare Reform

In this 2016 Election season, U.S. health citizens face increasing healthcare costs (whether enrolled in Obamacare or insurance from work), insurance plans leaving exchanges, EpiPen prices that compete with household monthly food budgets, and miserable customer service experiences in hospitals, doctors' offices, and those insurance companies.

Don't look for your personal healthcare experience to make the J.D. Power customer satisfaction levels you feel when you patronize other industries. To make your own healthcare world a more pleasant place (and save money at the same time), try self-care as your personal M.O. for healthcare reform.

Seventy-three percent of health consumers who faced increasing health care costs in 2016 are trying to take better care of themselves due to higher health expenses, the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) found in its 2016 Health and Voluntary Workplace Benefits Survey. Furthermore, one-half of people are delaying going to the doctor due to growing health care costs.

Thus, in the face of rising health care costs and consumers taking advantage of self-service in other aspects of daily life, self-care is the new normal for home health care. And home care now goes way beyond the traditional narrow definition of durable medical equipment and visiting nurses. Today, home care encompasses anything and everything you can do to bolster your own health. Consider this: a U.S. consumer visits a grocery store some 80 times a year. She sees her doctor three times a year, for a 'normal' American patient.

The grocery store likely has a pharmacy inside, not far from the aisles of gluten-free food and produce. That pharmacy is staffed by a pharmacist, who happens to be in the most-trusted profession in America (second only to nurses). And, that grocer increasingly has hired dietitians to help customers build healthy carts of food to help people manage diabetes, prevent or manage heart disease, and bolster vitality.

"The grocery channel offers a holistic approach to impact on diet, support wellness and healthy lifestyles, and drive that conversation," a team from GMDC told me during an interview for my ongoing research into consumer-driven healthcare. GMDC represents retailers, specifically general merchandisers, health, beauty and wellness stores, and their suppliers. Why don't hospitals talk more with grocery stores? GMDC asks. For example, "Why shouldn't HCA (the nation's largest for-profit hospital group) meet up with HEB (one of the nation's largest food chains)?" a GMDC spokesperson asked at the recent Health:Further meeting in Nashville (headquarters for HCA).

While hospitals are morphing new business models given changing payment regimes, health and wellness product suppliers and retailers recognize the opportunity to serve consumers' self-care health demands. One promising alliance was struck between Johnson & Johnson and Wakefern, a grocery chain, focusing on Type 2 diabetes. The store worked with J&J to offer PWD (people with diabetes) a solution set of products and services that was designed to help make patients' complicated diabetes-management lives easier.

Another example of a supplier and retailer coming together to benefit consumer caregivers is between Kimberly-Clark and Sam's Club. This supplier and retailer offered the Caregiver Box which assembles essential items for bathing, toileting, and feeding a loved one at home. Caregiving is a fast-growing burden on consumers, who face burn-out and economic challenges in the process. Retail is a convenient, accessible place to support caregivers in the community.

Imagine a Geek Square for your health: dietitians now work in grocery stores at a growing rate. It is not a big leap to imagine a retail bricks and mortar store staffed with nurses, nurse practitioners, and physicians' assistants that aren't working in a clinic but rather on the floor as health coaches.

A big and popular facet of self-care is food and nutrition. Now food companies are meeting consumers in grocery stores through not only health-focused offerings (like gluten-free and halal), but healthcare focused foods: think food-as-medicine.

Hormel (makers of SPAM) launched the Vital Cuisine line of foods focused on cancer patients for self-care at home. People undergoing cancer treatment often lack appetite and energy, and turbocharging nutrition can make a huge difference in their lives. Hormel developed this product portfolio collaborating with the Cancer Nutrition Consortium, which is an alliance of nutritionists, physicians, dieticians and oncologists from leading cancer research institutions - along with chefs from the Culinary Institute of America. Why shouldn't food-as-medicine taste great, too? So the line focuses on comfort food, protein and texture. This is user-centered design thinking. Hormel considers itself a protein company, so this was a natural fit.

Another innovative food strategy for health and self-care is supported by Campbell's Soup, which invested $32 million in Habit, a personalized nutrition company in start-up mode. Habit’s tagline, “from test-to-table," communicates its mission to assess consumers’ body metrics and DNA and figure out a customized food plan. Habit will then match health coaches to the individual, complemented by pesonalized subscription meal kits.

Popular culture is supporting the self-care message. Perhaps you saw Cigna's "TV Doctors of America" ad during commercial time in September 2016. Advertising Age called the commercial "a campaign to save real lives." The ad featured popular TV doctors including iconic Alan Alda as Dr. Hawkeye Pierce, Patrick Dempsey as Dr. Derek Shepherd, Lisa Edelstein as Dr. Lisa Cuddy, Donald Faison as Dr. Chris Turk, and Noah Wyle as Dr. John Carter with the tagline, "Go. Know. Take Control." The campaign promoted knowing your "core four" numbers: blood pressure, blood sugar, body mass index (BMI), and cholesterol. The five doctors had a call to action for viewers to get their clinical lab tests done and ultimately adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors.

At the same time, Cigna launched a "Health Improvement Tour" with the Cordani Foundation to promote self-care awareness to people living in underserved communities. There is a hard personal return-on-investment for people who self-care: Cigna calculated that over three years, people enrolled in employer-sponsored health plans could save thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs by understanding and adopting healthy behaviors based on knowing their numbers.

America is already a nation of self-carers: 81% of adults use OTC medicines as a first response to minor ailments, and U.S. consumers make 26 trips a year to purchase OTC products. They only visit doctors, on average, three times a year. Furthermore, doctors tend to like the idea of patients caring for themselves to conserve time to see their sickest patients: 10% of visits to doctors' offices every year could be avoided by treating common conditions using OTC medicines.

Finally, 80% of U.S. consumers believe the trend toward greater self-healthcare is positive for Americans. Now that's a real kumbaya moment for healthcare reform.

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