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Health Care Advisors Can Aid Consumers in Need

Armen Hareyan's picture

Health Care System

As the United States moves toward a health care system that gives individuals more power and control over their health care decisions, many experts worry consumers will be bewildered by the large number of complex financial and medical issues. Some argue against consumer-directed health care because they don't believe people can or should be left to make these difficult decisions.

But those difficulties don't mean we have to turn our back on consumerism and lock in the old paternalistic, top-down system. People do need expert help in navigating the growing complexities of treatment options, and the health sector is beginning to respond by offering health coaches and disease and chronic-care management programs.

And that's just the beginning: The new information economy will offer even more options, including health care advisors, to help people make better care and health spending decisions.

Growing Industry

Today, when people are seriously ill or have a child with multiple medical needs, they find they must become actively involved in informing themselves about the nature of the illness and treatment options. They rely on their doctors, of course, but they also become experts themselves, gathering information from disease groups, real and virtual discussion groups, medical libraries, and trusted Web sites.

In addition, many people seek the security of having expert advice available through "concierge medicine." Here, people agree to pay a physician a fixed fee for ready access to appointments, attention to wellness care, help in locating specialists, and expert advice in the event of a medical problem.

Tens of millions of people would like to have that kind of access, but so far only a small number do.

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Changing World

This kind of trusted, expert health advisor will be an emerging force in the new world of consumer-directed health care--trusted agents people call on for routine health care advice and for help in making complex medical decisions.

Information technology will make this expertise available to anyone with an Internet connection. New companies will allow millions of people to get clear and understandable information, and will even provide access to one-on-one consultations.

Several new companies are providing such medical-decision support for individuals and companies. One is Health Dialog, a Boston-based company that helps patients understand treatment options and choose what's best for them through a network of health coaches who are available by phone 24 hours a day.

Enlightened Consumers

According to the Health Dialog Web site, "In an increasingly consumer directed healthcare environment, it is critical that individuals have the information and support they need to become more involved in their healthcare. Health Dialog is built upon the idea that when individuals are more actively engaged in managing their care with their physicians, they are more satisfied with their care, quality goes up, and costs go down."

Health Dialog uses information from the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making, a nonprofit group also based in Boston, which reinforces this point on its Web site:

"When patients get sick, they sometimes face treatment decisions that can be confusing and frightening. ...