The consumerization of healthcare and the opportunity for dietary supplements

What is the consumerization of healthcare, and what does this mean for dietary supplements?

During this year’s 2021 Regulatory, Scientific, and Quality Conference hosted by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA; Washington, DC), John Whyte, MD, chief medical officer of WebMD, spoke about the consumerization of healthcare and how dietary supplements play a role in this emerging model.

Whyte explained how healthcare is moving from a marketplace focused on providers to one focused on consumers. Consumers now have more authority over their healthcare and take more of a do-it-yourself approach to their wellbeing thanks to expanded access to the internet and its wealth of information, as well as advances in technology, such as wearable technology, remote video communication, and applications that monitor health and provide advice.

These tools became all the more important since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the pandemic physically separated patients from their healthcare providers and other resources, consumers found it necessary to seize control of their healthcare. In turn, practitioners had to adapt and employ new methods to treat patients. For example, during the pandemic, 30% of doctor visits employed telehealth methods compared to 2% prior to the pandemic.

As technology sheds new and up-to-the-minute health insights for consumers, health practitioners play the important role of contextualizing and interpreting this information for them. This is an opportunity for practitioners to communicate with patients, answer questions and concerns that health-monitoring technology may spark, and encourage further investigation. Practitioners and consumers must also remain wary about online misinformation. The danger of misinformation when it comes to healthcare has become particularly apparent during the pandemic, engendering distrust and antipathy for state, including federal authorities as well as health professionals.

The challenge for healthcare practitioners now becomes: how does one develop closer relationships with patients who are becoming increasingly more independent?

Dietary Supplements in the Mix

Another important factor in the consumerization of healthcare is the use of dietary supplements. Dietary supplement sales and usage boomed during the pandemic as consumers sought ways to bolster their immune health and manage their stress. This has been incredibly positive for the dietary supplement industry despite the supply chain challenges the pandemic introduced. However, consumers should not construe the benefits of dietary supplements as an alternative to modern medicine and regular health checkups.

Furthermore, Whyte pointed out, there appears to be a lack of congruity between the dietary supplement space and healthcare practitioners. While there are brands of supplements marketed to practitioners, when it comes to practitioners more broadly there is a lack of interest in and even dismissiveness towards dietary supplements, he said.

According to Whyte, consumers rarely communicate with their healthcare providers about the types of dietary supplements they are taking, and doctors rarely inquire about what supplements their patients may be taking. With dietary supplement usage on the rise, there should be a campaign to change the attitudes of healthcare providers by educating them in the ways supplements can complement their practice, as well as to encourage consumers to openly communicate with their healthcare providers about their supplement regimen. This could help consumers cut through the noise and make educated decisions about what supplements to take. Informed practitioners can ensure that their patients buy good-quality products. In the end, this could help the reputation of dietary supplements by filtering out bad actors who prey on ignorance and deception.

Whyte raised important questions that practitioners and the supplements industry will need to grapple with as healthcare becomes increasingly consumerized. With the advent of personalized nutrition services such as Persona Nutrition or Care/Of, technology is also playing a greater role in dietary supplements sales and usage. So, how can technology be employed to better educate consumers and practitioners, as well as increase communication between the two parties on the value of dietary supplement usage? For that matter, how can technology be employed to help brands increase visibility in a saturated marketplace both online and in-store? These are important questions to consider as the internet of things continues to dominate our daily lives.