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ConsumerLoop #6, April 1999

Whose Health Is It Anyway?

Through the Loop tracks consumer values which we believe will become more important in the market-place. One consumer value established for some time is health. However, there are now some signs of forces of change impacting the shape of health values in a very different way. This value will not only affect health products and services but should be seen as a factor in a wider sense.

In a scenario planning project conducted in the mid-1990s, it appeared that the consumer would be asked to become more responsible for their own health. One of the key drivers for this was to be the progressive limiting of government resources to fund mass healthcare, shifting the onus of responsibility onto the consumer.

Other factors such as the ageing of many populations, raised expectations of good health, new treatments for certain diseases were all going to place additional burdens on health services. Preliminary evidence of healthcare rationing was dismissed and not really taken seriously. Certainly, the consumer, while being health-aware, seemed to have little understanding of the potential outcomes.

Towards the end of the decade, it would appear that a new health construct is emerging. Through the Loop expects some of the elements of this construct to be greater state intervention, more rationing, perceived failure of the healthcare system, a renewed emphasis on inner health and self-help, active exploration for alternatives, spiritualism-searching for inner balance and more consumer advocacy. This will lead to a series of very different opportunities. These elements should be examined in greater detail for new impacts. Incidentally, many of the examples are mature-market based, but it expected that these signals will impact globally over time.

More Intervention

Governments seem to be taking a more interventionist stance towards healthcare policy. For example, Tony Blair has been quoted as suggesting that the provision of healthcare services in the future would rely on individuals having responsibility for their actions, for example, drinking and smoking. "More self help means help for all."

Some examples of this interventionist attitude include:

  • Speedy action to produce safeguards against what might be regarded as remote risks e.g. the banning of beef on the bone to prevent BSE.

  • The introduction of a National Institute of Clinical Excellence leading to appraisal of treatments before they are widely introduced.

  • Increased emphasis on government nutritional guidelines.

  • The use of National Lottery money to fund a network of healthy living centres targeted in disadvantaged regions of the UK.

  • The banning of smoking in public places.

  • The encouragement of institutional intervention into drinking and drug-taking including random sampling tests in some organisations.

The finding that societies with narrower income distributions are healthier will add some fuel to interventionism especially in countries like the UK and US.

Rationing

There have now been several examples of rationing such as the restrictions placed on the prescription of Viagra. It is expected that rationing examples will increase and become more overt. In the UK, geographical rationing has also become common.

Perceived Failure of the Healthcare System

Pilot consumer qualitative research in the UK has shown a strong awareness of failure of the healthcare system. Comments such as:

  • "I think it is very wasteful."

  • "The whole system is crumbling."

  • "They do not care, they are too busy."

When asked to write an obituary for the National Health Service, one of the most telling was:

"The NHS was brought to its knees by mis-management, over-popularity, the State of the Nation. A nation of haves and have-nots. The majority being the latter who needed its services more and more as their lives deteriorated. Every thing has a price."

Further exploratory research among opinion leaders of various healthcare bodies reinforced the notion of a potential death warrant for any mass healthcare service.

"Yearned for before we had it, maligned by those who enjoyed it. To be preserved for those who need it-and paid for by those who can afford it."

Inner Health and Self-Help

At the end of the 1990s, when one in three consumers suffer from insomnia, depression is common, there is an increasing incidence of allergies and more obvious stress, it is not surprising that consumers are turning to inner-health. They want to feel in control of their lives and a deep inner-focus allows them to achieve this. They are now searching for improved physiological and psychological balance. The continued impact of uncertainty in the future will increase this attention. In this regard, watch for the oscillation between optimism and anxiety. The millennium, as a visible transition point, is also aggravating this tension between anxiety and optimism.

Alternatives Become Mainstream

There will be active exploration of alternatives and complementary medicines. Look at the development of aromatherapy, homeopathy, naturotherapy, acupuncture, herbalism, hydrotherapy, reflexology and so on. Many consumers will look to use these alternatives due to improved access, greater knowledge and also because of the perceived benefits over traditional treatments.

The alternative market has now become mainstream.

Spiritualism

The search for inner balance is leading to an interest in spiritualism. "Living right" in many mature societies in taking over from materialism. Ira Matathia suggests that consumers will look for whatever makes them feel comfortable and grounded. Other observers have suggested the development of the "tao generation."

More Consumer Advocacy

It is not surprising that there will be increased consumer advocacy as a result of being more knowledgeable and caring more about what we consume. The strategy of transparency will be virtuous in the future. Consumer advocacy was seen strongly in the recent wave of consumer uncertainty about genetically modified foods.

Futures

A series of futures can now be seen. Some examples of these:

  • Extended life expectancies will create new markets. This has been described as the coming agequake. Average life expectancy in the world was 48 years in 1955; this will reach 73 by the year 2025.

  • The quality of life will raise new debates and dilemmas.

  • In a time-starved world, parcels and fragments of time will be important.

  • There will be more aggressive health maintenance and possible penalisation.

  • Short duration health boosters and experiences will expand as consumer opportunities.

  • There will be a merging between traditional and alternative treatments.

  • Spiritual programmes and the enhancement of non-material values.

  • Shape acceptance will change as the mature world ages.

  • The role of the media in shaping these issues will alter with greater information directly available to the consumer.

  • More self-diagnosis tests in the area of impacts for ageing. Osteoporosis is just the start.

  • Watch for intelligent nutrients.

Summary

A changing healthcare construct is underway, shifting the opportunities for brands, delivery channels and new experiences, both inside and outside what may be viewed as the healthcare market. Renewed involvement is necessary in many of these facets in order to determine new outcomes.

As a result of this changing health construct, brand development should be expected to become more holistic. The introduction of Niquitin, the smoking cessation aid, shows the path that more healthcare brands will start to follow.

These early signals of change are just the beginning in a new era when the consumer asks "whose health is it anyway" and "who has final responsibility."

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