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Powerful forces are converging along the healthcare continuum to catalyze explosive healthcare changes. New economic realities are motivating many to take greater steps towards proactive Health Care rather than Sick Care and greater responsibility for their own health and wellness. At the same time, technology is enabling fully customized and predictive prevention alternatives, including a blending of alternative medicine with Western medical science to create an endless possibility of more effective health care solutions. This perfect storm of the changing economic landscape, enabling technology and innovative treatment is poised to revolutionize health care as we know it today.
Following are NMI insights into how consumers are meeting the new challenges and opportunities that exist within this ever-evolving new “health care” paradigm.
Emerging Self Responsibility
Consumers are increasingly making efforts to take more responsibility across all aspects of their life – especially concerning their own personal health. Their efforts are driven by several influences including a growing mistrust of institutions and corporations brought on by recent occurrences within the financial industry and questionable corporate practices across other market sectors. In addition, and for example, recent flu epidemics and reports of resistant bacterial infections have consumers more vigilant over boosting their immunity. Combined with the uncertainty of a future healthcare system and continued economic challenges, consumers are starting to look for better solutions to stay healthy; solutions which may require an increased self-interest and management of their own health.
The majority of consumers agree that taking responsibility for one’s health is the best way to stay healthy – and they show strong desire and self motivation toward that end. See Figure 1.
Food as Medicine
Driven in part by emerging food fortification technologies and new discoveries of nutrient benefits, consumers are choosing to make the most of their caloric intake.
Research shows that the top drivers of functional and fortified food use are to ensure overall health and to increase consumption of certain nutrients – almost a nutritional insurance policy. In fact, three-quarters of consumers (78%) believe healthy foods and beverages can be used to increase the quality of their lives. In addition, over a quarter of the population (28%) believes that functional foods and beverages can be used in place of some medicines. It may not be surprising, then, that a majority of consumers would use foods and beverages to prevent and treat many health conditions, including, but not limited to heart disease, high blood pressure, lack of energy, intestinal irregularity and even cancer.
Foods as the new “medicine” is a strong sign of consumers’ growing need to take more responsibility for their health and may be an indication that functional foods have not yet reached saturation within the industry and may in fact be poised to be a key driver across many existing and emerging markets.
Consumers are exploring alternatives and finding them in many areas of their lives. Whether it is healthcare, food, or an environmental concern, trends are apparent and segmentation is highly relevant. For instance, while use of alternative healthcare may seem – on the surface – a stable or niche phenomenon, there is continued growth and interest among core users. In other areas of their lives, consumers are seeking alternatives in the types of food they eat, whether it is an alternative form of a staple product such as soy milk or meat substitutes – or an alternative brand, such as a generic or store brand. Consumers are looking beyond the norm and the conventional and are seeking alternatives which are more aligned with their needs and values.
In fact, a third of consumers (34%) indicated they used alternative healthcare in the past year, with physicians and chiropractors among the most used alternative providers. In addition, consumers are open to a blending of alternative and traditional healthcare marked by their strong interest in a conventional healthcare/insurance plan that also provides alternative healthcare options (40%).
“It is easy to dodge our responsibilities but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities” –Josiah Charles Stamp
Healthcare is taking on new dimensions as consumers are beginning to take tangible, measured steps in their everyday lives as a way to regain control over a lifestyle which appears to have veered off track. Consumers are recalibrating what is important in order to reestablish balanced and healthy lifestyle goals. Even more so in today’s economy, concern is evident as consumers are choosing to eat healthier, take supplements, and use alternative remedies to costly doctor visits and high priced pharmaceuticals.
Taking personal responsibility is at the heart of the new consumer-directed health care trend and it appears to be picking up momentum. Industries will need to keep pace and assist consumers where needed in order to meet the challenges and new parameters that are being set.
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