In a new report out of Illinois-based consulting firm Kaufman Hall, 66 percent of hospital and health system leaders say they see consumerism as a strategic priority. And yet, only about 23 percent of respondents believe they have the insights to take action and implement such a strategy.

Consumers aren’t waiting around for that plan to come together; they’re already looking to compare prices or schedule a same-day, after-hours appointment to see a doctor. Paul Crnkovich, a managing director with Kaufman Hall, likens it to planes taking off while the runways are still being built.

Any number of barriers might be to blame: clinicians’ resistance to change, competing priorities or challenges in gathering the right data. But Crnkovich says consumerism should be one of the primary factors shaping everything your hospitals does, from strategic planning to site selection.

“I hope it’s a wake-up call in the sense that this is one more pressure that’s impacting the business, but it’s not something to fear,” he says. “It’s actually something that can help hospitals differentiate themselves in establishing a meaningful point of difference in the marketplace.

“There’s always going to be a role for the traditional provider-side system. That’s how most of our health care is delivered and, just like any other product that’s seen success, it’s about understanding who is my audience, what do they want and how do I ... meet their needs better than the competition?” Crnkovich adds.

In its report, "2016 State of Consumerism in Health Care: The Words Don’t Match the Pictures," Kaufman Hall offers four key areas on which hospital leaders can focus to drive their consumerism strategy:

  1. Organizational alignment: Ensure that consumerism is a clear C-suite priority and establish a clear link to your hospital’s strategic and business-unit goals.
  2. Content: Develop foundational information about health care consumers, competition and your marketplace. Dive into any key competitive issues and measure performance, using such data for improvement.
  3. Capability: Start with a small team and build out your organization’s analytical capabilities to develop, prioritize and utilize consumer insights.
  4. Data and IT: Audit your current data, determining where it resides and who “owns” it, and begin building out a data infrastructure. That includes establishing dashboards and tracking performance metrics.

Some of this may seem daunting, especially for a small hospital with no staff dedicated to these transformation efforts. But Crnkovich believes it’s all about starting small and focusing on the fundamentals, and the rest will take care of itself.

“Pick one or two initiatives and say ‘I’m going to focus my consumer understanding on that area because I know it will have a systemwide impact, or at least it will make a difference,’ ” he says. “And then, start to put in place some of the fundamentals that will allow me to drive growth long term.”