The consumer-driven health care revolution is well under way.

More and more consumers are opening health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts, and the assets in those accounts are growing.

This anticipated growth is challenging the health care industry to revamp its traditional marketing, rethink branding strategies and adopt a more consumer-focused mindset as it promotes innovative new HSAs and other products.

Brand awareness will prove to be an essential tool for health plan providers, third-party administrators and employers as consumers adopt a more prominent role in the health care decision making process.

Consider the health care benefit debit card, which is emerging as an essential part of the health-benefits mix. The card is the most direct link that health plan insurers, administrators and managers have with their customers. In fact, the percentage of consumers reporting they had used credit or debit cards for medical purposes grew by 50% between 1998 and 2003.

The card provides a golden opportunity for each player in the market to establish its brand and position itself as a superior health care partner.

By 2010, holders of 71% of all FSAs, HSAs and health reimbursement arrangements may rely on payment cards, and holders of 95% of HSAs may rely on payment cards, according to TowerGroup, Needham, Mass.

As health care benefit debit cards become standard issue for health care payments, consumers will expect the same level of service they get from their banking debit cards, such as 24/7 customer support and online access to account information and statements.

Additionally, health care claims administrators will need to offer real-time claims adjudication. Consumers will demand access to multiple “purses,” or benefit accounts, through a single card. In the not-too-distant future, expect health care identification cards and benefit debit cards to combine, allowing providers immediate access to patient eligibility information and on-demand access to payment accounts for consumers.

The consumer-driven health care movement encourages consumers to participate actively in their health care decisions. They are deciding the type of health care they receive, who will provide their care and how much they will spend on health care. Very soon, consumers, not employers, will take a more active role in evaluating who will provide their health coverage and how much they are willing to spend on it. That explains why the industry needs to focus its marketing efforts directly on those individuals.

Plan providers and third-party administrators must position themselves as offering the most convenient and comprehensive benefits packages, and the health care benefit debit card helps because it is so handy for consumers to use.

Each time a health care consumer pulls out the card, the health care administrator’s logo serves as a constant reminder of how health care management and payments have become less of a burden.

To increase brand awareness at the point of sale, direct-to-consumer marketing offers the most successful approach. The goal of branding should strive to sell a brand and a health care benefits package whose name is a synonym for “convenience.” Marketing should emphasize that employees who use the cards can significantly reduce use of paper-based claims.

As health care decision-making continues to move into the consumer’s realm, administrators need to align their business models to accommodate that shift and become more consumer-focused. By adopting health care benefit debit cards now, health care and benefits administrators will grow with the consumer-driven health care trend.