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The consumer focus on wellness

In part three of our three-part series on trends in healthcare consumerism, we examine consumers' growing focus on wellness.

Wearables and trackers have steadily increased in popularity because they conveniently allow patients to share their readings with physicians from the comfort of home. And considering the accelerated adoption of telehealth in recent years, this trend signals an ever-expanding consumer wellness focus.

In fact, 79% of respondents surveyed across six countries say that wellness is essential, while 42% believe it's a top priority.1

Consumers are more invested in their health than ever, purchasing everything from fitness trackers and food delivery plans to supplements and skincare routines.

Experts predict that the global wellness market, currently worth $1.5 trillion, is going to have an annual growth rate of between 5% and 10%.1

This increased consumer focus on wellness gives healthcare providers the opportunity to shift from only treating illness to promoting prevention through ongoing monitoring and treatments and pivot toward a more comprehensive model of care.

Wellness vs. primary care

As promising as the numbers are, the healthcare system hasn't fully caught up with emerging wellness trends.

"I think prevention is better than cure, but that's not the mentality of the medical system," says Tara Scott, M.D., chief medical officer and founder of Revitalize Medical Group, Ohio.

The main issue is that the traditional medical and insurance reimbursement models focus more on treating problems and diseases than prevention.

But there's hope. Annual physical exams focus on wellness, with physicians addressing recommended screening tests and reviewing blood work.

An April 2021 report by McKinsey & Company1 found that the consumer wellness market focuses on six categories that occasionally align with primary care providers' goals:

  • Health: This involves consumer participation with their own care and includes apps, wearable trackers and symptom logging between appointments
  • Fitness: Several companies took advantage of the pandemic lockdown to market at-home fitness systems. Though consumers may have spent the early days of COVID-19 neglecting their exercise routines, many have now renewed their fitness goals and see them as a priority for their overall wellness
  • Nutrition: Nutrition apps and food delivery services are two ways consumers track their nutrition. Monitoring food intake, monitoring calories and setting nutrition goals help consumers take an active role in their health
  • Appearance: The wellness connection between looking good and feeling good promotes products that improve appearance or clothing, making working out more appealing and effective
  • Sleep: As the importance of good sleep becomes more recognized, consumers are investing in sleep-related items, including weighted blankets, sleep trackers, therapeutic pillows and sleep-enhancing supplements
  • Mindfulness: The mediation practice of "being in the moment" has become a priority for many navigating the uncertainty of present times. Many mindfulness apps exist for consumers to utilize as part of their overall health goals

Mental wellness is essential for mental health

A primary care visit should make enough time to promote wellness across the board, including addressing mental health.

But there's no current payment for that, says Ronald Dixon, M.D., an internal medicine physician in Boston and the founder/CEO of CareHive, a health technology company.

"If we're going to do that, there has to be a way to value that, and it's missing right now."

According to the Global Wellness Institute, mental wellness is an internal resource that helps us think, feel, connect and function; it's an active process that allows us to build resilience, grow and flourish.2

Mental wellness has four dimensions:

  • Mental: how the patient thinks and processes information
  • Emotional: how the patient feels and manages emotions
  • Social: how the patient relates to others
  • Psychological: how the patient reacts to all these components

An increase in mental wellness products and services outside of medicine indicates a need for physicians to incorporate mental wellness into their practices.

And while seeing mental health as part of overall wellness shouldn't surprise anyone, the pandemic has clearly shown the need for it.

"People are coming to realize that mental, emotional and spiritual health is a critical component of physical health — they're interrelated," says Samuel Werner, D.O., a family practice doctor and adjunct professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in New Jersey.

When dealing with mental illness, healthcare providers should consider:

  • Mental illness can make physical medical conditions more difficult and expensive to manage3
  • Doctors diagnose and treat most mental health issues in primary care settings
  • Treating mental health issues may occur outside of the office through other providers

The rise of physician extenders

With an ongoing shortage of primary care physicians,4 practices can retain patients and meet their healthcare and wellness needs by incorporating physician extenders into their care model.

Within a practice, it's possible to have an individual establish a meaningful relationship with the patient for extended conversations about wellness — even if it's not a physician.

"This is why physician extender roles exist," says Werner.

Physician extenders, previously referred to as midlevel practitioners, include:

  • Nurse practitioners
  • Physician assistants
  • Dietitians and nutritionists
  • Therapists
  • Advanced practice registered nurses (i.e., nurse anesthetists and midwives)

A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report expects physician assistant employment to grow 31% between 2020 and 2030,5 a higher growth rate than most other occupations.

Nurse anesthetists, midwives and nurse practitioners are growing even faster, with an expected jump to 45% by 2030.6

These physical extenders often perform tasks under the physician's supervision that otherwise may not get done or won't get done as comprehensively.

Physicians should also use continuing education time to learn more about what they see every day, especially if it's an area about which they know little.

That way, instead of just transferring patients to an extender like a nutritionist, the physician is more informed about the patient.

The future of consumer wellness focus in primary care

Wellness in primary care means providing prevention-focused education and treatment over illness-focused treatment.

To effectively carry out prevention-focused treatment, primary care practices should have an ongoing and cooperative relationship with their patients.

As the healthcare landscape evolves and primary care providers strive to become more involved in their patients' care, practices should meet their needs by changing services into a more holistic model focusing on wellness.

And no matter what consumerism in healthcare and primary care trends arise, one thing remains stable.

"Healthcare is about people and caring for them. You can't take people out of the equation," says Dixon.

For a comprehensive overview of the latest trends in healthcare consumerism, read part one on the growing need for patient engagement and part two about the growing use of technology


© 2022 McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc.