Many pundits and economists believe that our economy is starting to show the early stages of bouncing back. We are starting to see signs of improving consumer confidence, the sprouting of signs of economic growth, and unemployment has at least bottomed out if not slightly improved of late. Results seem to show that recent holiday spending is above the prior years’ depressed level, and perhaps better than what was expected going into the 2009 season.
Even as spending starts to increase, there are indications that consumer spending habits have been remodeled by our economic crisis. Buyers remain cautious about their purchases and are still very much bargain-driven. Retailers are finding them to be more practical and socially conscious. There is a shift away from flashier purchases that symbolize material wealth. Consumer habits suggest a greater focus on more cost-effective ways to live. Social and environmental factors now play a bigger role in buying habits suggesting a greater empathy toward the fellow man.
If this cultural shift sticks, then I believe this wave can also dramatically shift the course of our health management practices. Up until now, there has been an emphasis on the newest, latest, greatest, and coolest treatments and technologies that companies can conjure up. New medications, new gadgets, new tools. Up until now, everyone thought that whoever had access to the newest and shiniest toys to treat disease would certainly have the best health. Just as Americans have learned hard lessons about debt, foreclosures, and declining personal wealth that have them shunning the life of opulence they embraced in the middle of the decade, they surely will start to see how much money can be saved on health care by becoming more invested in their own health and in the health of those around them.
Doesn’t it stand to reason that if consumers want their purchases to represent a life better lived, then that philosophy would spill over into how they manage one of the biggest tickets in their monthly budgets – their health? Will Americans continue to demand newer and therefore more costly medications and procedures to treat high cholesterol and clogged arteries, or will they try to reduce costs by making life-style changes that can also limit or help prevent these same problems? Will my patients of the future come in to see me to learn about the newest technology in pain therapy, or will people soon show up at my clinic wanting my advice on how to take care of themselves so that they can try to prevent some of the aches and pains that will diminish their quality of life when they grow older? I guess as the old commercial goes, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.”
As health care costs are not just a family burden, but a national dilemma that takes up a big piece of the federal budget, the stage is set for a wave of pressure to be exerted against bad societal health practices. Remember, in 2008 New York City adopted legislation forcing chain restaurants to post calorie counts for each item on the menu. This was with the hope of reducing the number of obese New Yorkers by 150,000 and lowering the number of diabetics by 30,000 within five years. People were shocked to find out the caloric content of some of the common treats and snacks they routinely ate. When 150,000 New Yorkers are able to reduce unnecessary pounds, everyone in New York wins. We are all in this together. Trust me, the healthier your neighbor is, the better it is for your neighborhood and the whole town you live in.
The renewed value placed on financial frugality can quite logically carry over to health practices due to not only cost-containment pressures but also a cultural shift seeking more value and long-term results as a way of improving quality of life. Many will find better satisfaction with their health by placing less importance on their health care and greater focus on their own self-maintenance. Over the next one to two years, look for more health service providers, like doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies, to allocate resources geared toward the value-conscious shopper.