Healthcare’s Untapped Workforce

Can the Freelance Economy Drive More Patient Engagement?


With the GOP reform bill pulled from the floor and the Affordable Care Act still in the cross-hairs, the future of health reform is as uncertain as ever. Meanwhile, in town halls across the country, patients are voicing their concerns about growing out-of-pocket costs and the prospect of losing coverage altogether.

For the 6.7 million adults in the U.S. who are limited in the amount of work they can do because of a chronic or complex health condition, this is an especially daunting prospect. They already face higher than average out-of-pocket costs, as well as inordinate challenges managing their care — from appointment scheduling and coordinating doctor visits to sorting out payment issues with their health plan.

This is a unique segment of the patient population that stands to benefit most from flexible work hours and supplemental income. As it turns out, it’s a reason a growing number of highly influential patient leaders are entering the freelance economy.

It’s estimated that by the end of 2020, roughly 40 percent of the U.S. workforce will be in the gig economy. It’s a trend with special appeal to people with complex health conditions. Many already work part-time, and their experience navigating the healthcare system makes them a unique asset to healthcare organizations working to be more patient-centered and consumer-driven.

Beyond Uber

Many of us associate the gig economy with ride-sharing, apartment rentals and hiring people with spare time to do random tasks. But that’s just one slice of the freelance workforce. A number of companies have rolled out sharing economy platforms that focus specifically on hiring professional freelance talent.

UpCounsel, for example, enables people who need legal help to hire lawyers on-demand. Catalant connects Fortune 500 companies to freelance MBAs who can tackle complex business problems. TopTal offers companies access to a global network of software engineers who like to moonlight.

WEGO Health recently launched an on-demand platform to connect healthcare organizations to patient experts who can take on consulting projects such as content development, market research, clinical trial recruitment and user testing of new apps and devices. These experts are leveraging their social influence, professional skills and patient experience. In the process they’re helping healthcare organizations tackle some big challenges with patient engagement.

The Freelance Economy Benefits Patient Experts

Bringing individuals with challenging health conditions into the freelance economy may have unique benefits. Research shows work is good for our health and well-being, but for patients in need of regular medical care, working a 9-to-5 job is often out of the question. For those individuals, meaningful work that pays well and offers flexible work hours is a big win.

Take Jodi Dwyer, a licensed, independent clinical social worker living with Multiple Sclerosis. Freelance consulting has afforded her the opportunity to stay involved in the MS community and supplement her income, while still maintaining her full-time job.

For those who need a more flexible work schedule, ad-hoc consulting is a win-win. It allows them to contribute professionally while managing their own care. Consulting also provides much-needed extra income, which can prove especially valuable in covering high deductibles and escalating out-of-pocket costs.

The Healthcare Opportunity

For healthcare organizations there’s an equally big payoff. Hiring consultants with strong professional backgrounds and deep patient expertise can have a profound effect on the success of initiatives aimed specifically at patients.

The freelance economy can also eliminate barriers organizations face when trying to find patients with the time, skills and know-how to consult on health-related projects. In this way, on-demand platforms help organizations realize efficiencies of time and cost, and simultaneously offer access to a vast untapped workforce.

There’s little doubt organizations can benefit from people like Jodi Dwyer, who bring valuable healthcare and professional experience to the table, as well as the perspective of a hyper-engaged patient. Who better to turn to for help tackling vexing challenges like patient engagement?

The healthcare sector now has the same ability to tap freelance talent as transportation, hospitality and creative services. But healthcare has a unique opportunity: The option to hire patient experts who greatly benefit from flexible work hours, meaningful supplemental income and the chance to help the industry deliver on a long-held promise to be more patient-centered.

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