UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Healthcare in the age of consumer empowerment


Call it the age of consumer empowerment.

With the ever-growing wealth of information offered via the Internet, consumers are undeniably better-informed in today’s world. And this is true when it comes to healthcare, too.

Five healthcare executives discussed this rise in consumer information in the panel “Changes and Challenges as Patients Take More Control of Their Care” at the third annual UNC Kenan-Flagler Healthcare Conference Nov. 15.

Panelists included:

  • Kevin Kettler (MBA '96), senior vice president, McKesson
  • John Plachetka, CEO, Pozen
  • Brian Goldstein, executive vice president and COO, UNC Hospitals
  • Thane Wettig, vice president, Eli Lilly

Internet health information services like WebMD allow consumers to plug in symptoms and receive a potential diagnosis in seconds. Pages upon pages of literature on symptoms, treatments, risks and outcomes can be found for almost all known illnesses. As patients become more educated about their health, the healthcare industry is facing a myriad of challenges — both new and decades old.

Patients still find it difficult to get access to own records, said Plachetka. “I think there’s an explosion of information, but consumers need to have access to their healthcare records so they can participate in their healthcare.”

The information available can be incomplete and difficult to understand, Wettig said. Unlike most other industries, access to pricing information for treatments is almost impossible to come by in healthcare. “The transparency on pricing is nonexistent,” he said.

The healthcare system is set up for the convenience of providers, not patients, Plachetka said. Patients seeking treatment are often burdened with high costs and long waits, which can intensify stress and health problems. To change that, the way healthcare providers are trained needs to change.

“The healthcare system isn’t a service organization yet,” he said. “Training, selection needs to change, but it needs to change from the top down. Patients and families need to understand the comprehensive effects of a disease when making healthcare decisions, Plachetka stressed.

A lot of these treatments don’t help the patient’s quality of life.”

The panel also discussed increasing the involvement of patients and families in healthcare decisions, and the importance of consumer responsibility.

UNC Hospitals has been working to involve patients and families in healthcare decisions, Goldstein said. “Just by talking to folks who’ve been patients here, we’re getting a lot of feedback.”

And when patients aren’t healthy and don’t abide by their treatment plans, they drive up healthcare costs for everyone. Panelists provided a few solutions to these challenges.

Expand the role of other healthcare professionals — nurse practitioners, physician assistants and pharmacists — in providing care, suggested Goldstein. “The physician controls everything,” he said. “If you change that portal, you can start to change things.”

The proliferation of smart phones has provided room for innovation. The growth of apps that allow diabetes patients to track and better manage their blood sugar levels is just one example.

At the end of the day, Plachetka said, healthcare providers must be open to change. “They need to be humble. They need to acknowledge that they don’t know everything.”

The MBA Healthcare Club at UNC Kenan-Flagler organized the conference. Students, alumni, academia and industry leaders explored such trends as patients controlling more of their care, healthcare IT, delivering innovation to the patient, healthcare marketing and startups within healthcare. 

GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Humana, Becton Dickinson, Quintiles, Eli Lilly, Deloitte, and Ernst & Young sponsored the event.