The opportunity for healthcare systems to reinvent consumer relationships

While U.S. healthcare is still very much a work in progress, with new pressures reshaping virtually every business model, one thing remains the same: Consumers are powerful.

Winning them over requires speaking their language, and that’s a real challenge. On one side, health systems still operate from their lexicon of sickness—they run hospitals, medical centers and clinics. But when consumers talk about health, they do so more broadly, thinking about diet, fitness and other wellness offerings.

And it isn’t just consumers who are forcing these larger definitions. The universe of regulators and insurers are increasingly linking reimbursement to an organization’s ability to keep people healthy. Metrics like “How many of your patients quit smoking last year?” and “How much weight have they lost?” are taking on a new importance, and many in the industry are still flummoxed as they move away from old fee-for-service models.

That’s led to an era of experimentation, with providers dabbling in a whole lexicon that seems invented just to confuse. Among themselves, they tout value-based care, for instance, which a consumer might overhear as meaning “more for my money,” instead of its true (and less folksy) definition, which is “patient outcomes divided by total cost per patient over time.” Or they refer to themselves as a medical home, industry-speak for a patient-centered philosophy that makes sure people and providers are on the same page. But when that terminology strays into office conversations or consumer-facing brochures, it just sounds like a scary place to send old Aunt Sally.

What’s in A Name?

The most conspicuous evidence of this experimentation is what healthcare systems call themselves, with dozens of systems undergoing rebranding efforts. Some — such as Duke Medicine, Northwestern Medicine, and the University of Maryland Medical Center— are going down the path toward more illness-focused nomenclature. These names, the thinking goes, play to an organizations’ scientific roots. Others have chosen to pivot toward health-focused words instead, hoping to connect with people around broader ideas about health and wellness. Children’s Medical Center Dallas has become Children’s Health System of Texas2. The Mount Sinai Medical Center is now the Mount Sinai Health System. Novant Health, a Prophet client, has renamed all its hospitals and medical centers. There’s even a subset of health systems doing a little of both, heightening their university affiliations, to emphasize their commitment to learning and scientific advances, but still stepping away from the term medicine. These include Indiana University Health, University of Wisconsin Health, and University of Florida Health.

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