2018: The Year of the Smart Technology Empowered HealthCare Consumer?
January 30, 2018
By Bettina Experton, MD, MPH, CEO of Humetrix

When two of the richest and most successful men on the planet, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet decide to disrupt healthcare along with their partner Jamie Dimon, JP Morgan Chairman, the world listens and the traditional healthcare industry is shaking. What great news! The news is even more exciting when this brilliant trio is driven with one single goal: to bring consumers - employees and their families - healthcare which is more transparent and more cost- effective. This big healthcare initiative is also going to be driven by technology which will have to directly touch its ultimate beneficiary: the consumer/patient/employee/citizen.

Could 2018 finally be the year of the healthcare consumer? Over a year ago, when people on both sides of the Atlantic rebelled and voted for changes in the political sphere, it was in big part because of the high cost of healthcare and as a result policy makers started to take notice. As a public health physician and healthcare IT entrepreneur on this consumer/patient-first journey from day one, I could only encourage our elected officials and industry to take action as I truly believe that it is Time to Reset Healthcare, by Giving Power to the People!

2018 can indeed be the year of the perfect storm when unsustainable healthcare costs are driving a brilliant trio of industry giants to refuse the inevitable, think anew and see their employees armed with technology as primary actors in a healthcare system 2.0.

Earlier this week, another tech giant also made the news when Apple started to place health records on iPhones. This is not a technology breakthrough as other companies have already done this, starting with Humetrix which has been offering its iBlueButton mobile app for users to access and store their health records on both Apple and Android mobile devices for the last five years. The big news is about the biggest consumer technology company on the planet showing the world that having your personal health records on your phone is a necessity, so that we have them in one place as we navigate a complex healthcare system across disparate healthcare providers.

With its latest (beta) iOS release, Apple has not yet -- and will not for a distant future -- give us the ability to retrieve with our phone all of our records from every hospital or physician office in the country. Only 12 hospitals, healthcare systems or clinics, making up less than 1% of the 5000+ hospitals and 200,000+ clinics in the U.S., opened their electronic medical record (EMR) systems to let the Apple Health Record app pull your records. Barriers will remain that block patients from getting their health records and may even increase when records are pulled by an app (and not pushed to an app) from all these EMR systems where data access is strictly guarded. Indeed, the modus operandi of Chief Information Officers acting on the direction of lawyers and other hospital executives is about protecting access to their data systems, not opening up access to them.

However, when industry giants like Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan are rethinking the way their employees are receiving healthcare in a simplified, likely more primary care oriented and with information at their fingertips, healthcare consumers will finally help transform healthcare for the better. Armed with their mobile devices set to access their own data, consumers will drive the necessary changes to lower costs, receive more quality healthcare, avoid unnecessary care and harmful medical errors and other costly waste. Indeed, if not for our own safety, we are compelled to better manage our healthcare as we are now becoming the biggest healthcare payer group (as tax payors and as subscribers to high cost / high deductible health insurances).

On the technology side, a consumer centered approach with consumer controlled personal mobile devices to access their data, be steered towards useful vs. wasteful care and coached along their health journey can be way more effective than what has been mainly a provider-centric approach. Whether your data comes from your self-insured employer health insurance system or is computed wherever we are on the planet through for instance Amazon Web Services, the healthcare consumer’s own mobile device can be the most secure, practical way to gather, store, and share your health information. Only you - the patient - know where you have received care last, whether or not you took the medications prescribed by the different physicians you have seen, when was the last costly imaging study you had so that it is not repeated, etc. Expecting every single physician to query a computer system to know about your up to date medical history wherever you receive care, and outside their own healthcare system, is not realistic. Storing very sensitive personal health information for millions of patients in one place is also not the safest thing to do. Cyber-attacks and ransomware of hospital systems or health plans are becoming more frequent, so that a compromised hospital EMR may inadvertently block your doctor from accessing the information they need to treat you. If providers now have to be prepared for the inevitable, patients should too. Collecting and storing your own health information on your own phone is the sensible thing to do, so life-saving data is available even if your hospital’s EMR system is down, or if you don’t have an Internet connection in the ER. After all, millions of distributed phones are less of a target than centralized databases of millions of records.

Warren Buffet summed it well when saying that “the ballooning costs of healthcare act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy.” The physician IT entrepreneur I am would simply add that the disruptive approach Buffet, Bezos and Dimon will apply to cure us from this devouring healthcare parasite should be directed to their employees/consumers giving them power to the information they need. Here could come - and long live - the Technology Empowered Smart Healthcare Consumer!

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