A random conversation at the coffee machine recently reinforced to me the direction healthcare is heading and why this is such an exciting time to be leading Any Lab Test Now. One of our millennial-aged employees mentioned he only makes coffee with bottled water — never tap water. “It’s healthier,” he said. I am sure it is healthier, but I can tell you, I would never have thought about that. I have been filling my coffee maker with tap water for decades!

In a simple, everyday way, this millennial was engaging in healthcare consumerism — that is, taking a proactive stance on his health. It’s changing the healthcare landscape at breakneck speed. Whether it’s millennials who would prefer to live in a cheap space, so they have more freedom to eat organic food and drink coffee using bottled water, or cost-conscious and savvy consumers with high insurance deductibles and Google in their back pockets, we are seeing more and more people taking charge of their healthcare decisions and dollars.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 60 percent of healthcare spending is the consumer’s choice, to the tune of $330 billion a year in out-of-pocket expenses (39 percent accounts for catastrophic expenses a patient has little to no control over). Consumers wield a lot of power in the healthcare industry whether they realize it or not. More are realizing it.

McKinsey & Company conducts an annual Consumer Health Insights (CHI) survey to gather information on consumers’ opinions, preferences and behaviors about health-related services and how that influences their healthcare choices.

A recent CHI survey found more than half of the respondents rated great customer service in healthcare as of equally high importance as they did in other consumer-oriented industries, whether it be buying a new car, booking a vacation villa or upgrading to a new smartphone. Delivering on expectations, offering convenience and providing great value are the qualities that matter most…no matter the industry.

Here are the top three trends I see in healthcare consumerism that are shaping the future of healthcare services and providing unprecedented opportunities for consumers and non-traditional healthcare providers like Any Lab Test Now.

#1 Increased Focus on Cost-Effective Solutions

Sticker shock! It’s not just for car buying and college tuition. How often have you or someone close to you received a bill for a lab test you expected would be $40 and it came back at $400? It’s so common. For decades, healthcare consumers were conditioned to do just what the doctor ordered without even thinking about checking the cost. Truthfully, the majority still do this (and come to regret it), but radical changes in health insurance plans, specifically, the increase in the number of high-deductible plans are compelling people to stop, question and compare. A recent study showed 22 percent of participants reported always asking about cost before visiting a healthcare provider. Seventeen percent reported researching lab costs ahead of time (maternity care costs were the most researched health service). There is huge growth potential here, especially for lab services. We provide the price prior to the service so there are no surprises on the back end. It’s completely transparent (and competitively priced), which appeals to two key groups of consumers; those on the wellness path, who are not only motivated by price but the empowerment that comes with making your own healthcare choices, and the sticker shock crowd who are increasingly finding themselves in situations they simply can’t afford.

#2 Increase in Telemedicine

Telemedicine has certainly proven itself to be a critical healthcare solution, especially for rural areas with limited access to healthcare choices. However, the ability to email, Skype or communicate through a web-based platform with a healthcare professional outside of the exam room elevates convenience and accessibility to a whole new level, no matter the locale. Case in point: I have asthma. Although I live in Atlanta (plenty of good healthcare choices), if I am sitting on my couch and have trouble breathing, I can get online, get a Skype appointment with a provider (I have two or three I use), get a prescription sent in and have my husband pick it up on the way home. I don’t have to leave my couch and I pay $50-$60 for my care. The convenience and efficiency are unbeatable. I am not at all surprised to learn more than 80 percent of consumers consider digital solutions — from online scheduling and bill pay to tele-appointments and monitoring health conditions — as the most effective way to manage their health. Consumers value convenience and ease, and telemedicine speaks directly to that expectation. We see health insurance carriers driving clients to telemedicine, we see more physician’s offices offering telemedicine; many refer their patients to our lab where they can walk in without an appointment and get a lab test which can bring clarity to symptoms. Consumers can upload their results to their doctor for a continuum of care. Telemedicine tools will continue to improve because consumers will demand it. I am excited to find new ways for Any Lab Test Now to increase its presence in this space because it’s only going to grow.

#3 Physician Response to Patients’ Financial Concerns

Doctors are trained to diagnose and treat. However, due to increasing costs of health insurance and healthcare in general, they often find themselves in unfamiliar territory when dealing with patients’ financial concerns. They (or more likely their nurses and office staff) are hearing from patients on price issues or losing them altogether when they don’t show up or follow through on recommended care because of cost concerns. Then there is the all-important customer service experience that drives satisfaction — and is on display on social media sites like Yelp, Facebook and RateMDs.com. These sites can certainly help consumers and providers, but they can also hurt. For instance, my son went to an urgent care facility for some lab work (the closest Any Lab Test Now was 1.5 hours away) and afterward received that sticker shock $400 bill. Based on this experience, he went on social media and gave the urgent care a very negative review. According to Wainscot Media, 80 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Moving forward, I see healthcare providers becoming more attuned to financial concerns because quite honestly, they can’t afford not to be. At Any Lab Test Now, we go out of our way to educate physicians’ offices on the transparent up-front costs of the lab tests we provide. This gives them a “no-surprises” affordable resource to offer their patients that not only keeps them in the healthcare system, but in turn improves the doctor-patient relationship.

Eighty percent of all diagnoses are based on lab results and that number will grow as science leads to new discoveries. The lab space is flourishing with new tests that come out every year, from clinical to genetic. As healthcare consumerism becomes a way of life for this generation and future generations, I look forward to keeping our company well-positioned to serve those who pursue health and wellness paths and choose a better quality of life.