Trend #2

Power to the Patients

How enabling engagement may make our interactions with the healthcare system more meaningful and productive

Imagine combining all of the data about a person, from a lifetime of medical records to real-time information from wearable devices and new generations of sensors, and then using artificial intelligence and experienced doctors and nurses to create a “check engine light” for your health. People could receive that information over social media or smartphone apps with simple reminders, encouragement, or warnings.

Many studies show that when patients know more about their health and the management of their diseases and conditions, their outcomes are better and the costs of their care are lower. The phenomenon is called “empowerment” or “engagement,” and a whole set of companies are springing up to work with healthcare providers to measure and boost that engagement. Getting people to take advantage of these new systems can be a challenge, however.

“If health-related data were available to the 325 million people in this country, they will force change.”

Gerald (Gary) Bisbee, Jr., co-founder, Chairman and CEO of The Health Management Academy

“I think that there’s an absence of engagement in health, broadly,” says Ciara Kennedy, president and CEO of Amplyx Pharmaceuticals. “Many people tend to think about health only when they worry they are about to lose it, or when they get a diagnosis.”

So how can engagement be increased? One important part of the answer is just making it easier for people see their doctor. All of the Cleveland Clinic’s family health centers now provide a patient portal on their websites, for instance. Through that portal, patients can see their provider’s entire schedule and make their own appointments.

Another key step is better educating patients about their conditions, so that they know exactly what’s happening with their health—and what the next steps in their care might be. That step can be made easier by the growing flood of information coming from mobile sensors and devices, more accessible medical records, and smart tools for making sense of the data.

“If health-related data were available to the 325 million people in this country, they will force change,” predicts Gerald (Gary) Bisbee, Jr., co-founder, Chairman and CEO of The Health Management Academy, a group of executives from the country’s largest integrated health systems.

But not just any data. The information must be “actionable,” offering people clear guides on what to do—or not to do. “I think the huge potential for technology is to be able use these large data sets to predict and understand what is it that you are likely to have and what is the best way to really manage you,” says Anne Wojcicki, CEO and co-founder of 23andMe, which markets genetic testing to consumers.

Healthcare can learn from retailers like Target or Walmart, Wojcicki and others suggest. These companies collect huge amounts of data on their customers, so that “when you walk into a store, they know exactly what you are likely to buy,” says Wojcicki.

Retailers, hotel chains, airlines, and many other businesses also strive to build relationships with customers, using rewards and loyalty programs, and communicating on Facebook and other social media with highly targeted ads and reminders. “We are definitely seeing a trend, a new relationship between companies and their customers, such as a rise in membership models,” says Jeremiah Owyang, founder of Crowd Companies.

An approach where patients are diagnosed with a condition and would receive a plan to manage their care right away would be a stark contrast to our current system, where it’s usually left to individuals to navigate fragmented health records, siloed specialists, and conflicting services.

Pharmaceutical companies could also reach out to consumers with easy-to-use apps for reporting both good and bad experiences with drugs, for ensuring that people are taking the correct doses of the right medications, or even for participating in clinical trials. (See Trend #4.) “There is a real opportunity to take the genetic information and connect that into consumer populations to look for who are the right people for the right drug,” says Johnson & Johnson’s Stoffels.

History shows that patients can indeed be an incredibly powerful force in driving progress towards new treatments. A prime example is HIV/AIDS. The healthcare industry, government agencies, and academic researchers worked together to develop drugs to fight HIV, “but it was the patient activation, the drive of the patient to get to the best possible therapy, and the community of patients that made it happen,” says Stoffels.

Yet, even with all of today’s mobile technologies and tools, getting people to engage more in their own health will be challenging. Convincing them to actually change behaviors will be even harder. A system of rewards and targeted messages, as used successfully by retailers, might work, experts say. So might boosting incentives for people, such as actually paying them for data, says Linda Avey, co-founder of We Are Curious (and co-founder of 23andMe).

Greater consumer engagement in healthcare also brings up one more worry for the traditional healthcare industry—competition. Just as ride-sharing apps are challenging the taxi business and home rental apps are upending the hotel industry, nimble and innovative outsiders are moving in to grab shares of the $3 trillion-per-year healthcare business. “Non-traditional players are rushing into the healthcare ecosystem,” says David Kirkpatrick, founder, host, and CEO of Techonomy Media.

People can already drop in at CVS MinuteClinics, get their genes analyzed directly by 23andMe, and upload and track their data on We are Curious or Apple Health. Tech and telecom giants such as Google, IBM, and Samsung are investing in devices, software, and communications tools. And peer-to-peer efforts that follow the general model of, say, Airbnb, are springing up. “There’s one startup called HelpAround that enables patients to share equipment with each other, peer to peer,” says Crowd Companies’ Owyang.

One of the interesting tensions now in the marketplace is whether healthcare companies or their tech competitors will have the advantage in developing new systems. Healthcare companies have far deeper knowledge of often-arcane healthcare systems—and thus, might be able to better develop and tailor new technology that meets specific needs. On the other hand, the tech industry may be able to come up with more user-friendly solutions, changing the healthcare systems themselves to take advantage of the technology’s capabilities.

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