When Amazon launched 20 years ago it would have been impossible to imagine how profoundly the company would disrupt the retail shopping experience. In 2013, Amazon boasted 237 million active users and Amazon mobile products reached nearly 3 of 4 U.S. smartphone users. Today the expectation is instant gratification for all your shopping needs.
The U.S. healthcare system is on the brink of a similar, Amazonian disruption—the result will be healthcare that is built around you—the consumer—and it promises to be faster, cheaper, more personalized and effective than anything we can access, or possibly even imagine, today.
There is no doubt the consumerization of healthcare has begun. The advance of digital health technologies and wearable sensors, the proliferation of smartphones, the rollout of cheaper diagnostic testing and personal genomics, and political and economic pressures are driving new patient-centric, data-driven approaches to the delivery of health products and services. In the not too distant future, individuals will use robust health platforms, sensors and apps to manage their health and prevent disease as routinely as they keep up with friends, shop online, and pay their bills.
Tomorrow's healthcare will be built around consumer expectations for convenience, choice and value. Here are three ways taking care of ourselves will be dramatically different, and better, than it is today:
1. Price transparency, choice and aligned incentives
Like the Amazon marketplace, healthcare is moving to a more open, transparent model where consumers will be able to shop for their health providers, hospitals and insurance plans in much the way we browse and buy products online today. Doctors and hospitals will be rated and reviewed. Insurance plan pricing will be much more differentiated; it will be quick and easy to compare prices and products online as it is now at Oscar, Stride Health and eHealthinsurance.com.
Transparency and choice will underpin employer-backed health insurance offerings as well. Castlight, for example, is providing enterprise healthcare software that allows employees to make informed choices based on pricing, quality and expected outcomes. High deductible plans, now offered by 44% of employers, will help align incentives, and individuals will receive discounts and options for insurance based on behavior.
Large companies already are making moves to align incentives. Walmart and Target moved their part-time employees to the health exchanges while CVS and NCR are offering premium discounts tied to behavior and biometric data. Marketplace dynamics will lower costs and improve quality and choice.
And, best of all, we'll know who is on our health team and what services and expected outcomes we're getting for our money.
2. All your health data in the cloud and on your phone
Gone will be the days when health data and physician notes are siloed in the records of doctors' offices and labs. Already, quantified selfies are using wireless sensors like Fitbits, Jawbone UPs, and Nike FuelBands to gather and transmit daily nutrition and exercise data to their smartphones to be analyzed and shared.
While this may be a fun-to-use novelty today, in the future sophisticated sensors will measure everything from sleep patterns, to heart rhythms, to blood glucose; this data will be accessible in the cloud for your health team to monitor, diagnose, and make recommendations based on your real-time health information. Consumers will see their health data in full transparency on their mobile devices—the instant your blood work is analyzed, for example, it will show up on your smartphone with recommendations.
This ability to capture, synthesize and share data will allow for personalized healthcare in much the way Amazon's data engine has customized the shopping experience around consumer behavior, preferences and anticipated needs. New insights gleaned from health data will drive efficiency, customization and better outcomes for individuals, providers, and insurers.
3. No more annual check-ups—your health team is in your phone
The days of the once-yearly check-up are numbered. As our health data moves to the cloud, care will become a continuous process that is integrated into our daily lives. There will be no more gaps in care between doctor visits. Getting your blood drawn will be inexpensive and hassle free—a quick trip to Theranos at Walgreens will provide analysis down to the type of LDL particles in your blood, which is predictive for cardiac risk.
Imagine a health dashboard where your biometric, phenotypic and behavioral data is continually gathered and updated in the cloud via wireless sensors. Your health coach (a nurse or other health expert) will work with you on a regular basis to monitor and optimize your health through texts, email, voice and video, whatever you prefer.
Doctors will provide specialized care for diseases and more serious conditions on demand. Eventually, genetic testing will become inexpensive and an essential tool to help us understand our disease risk, disease progression, drug responses and personal health traits.
Healthcare will become proactive and purposeful, allowing us to anticipate and prevent chronic conditions before they develop.
These changes in healthcare are coming faster than most of us might think.
- Today, an equal number of patients and doctors agree that routine health tasks should be handled by smartphones.
- Eighty-four percent of adults, age 18 to 34, say they prefer a smartphone consultation with their doctor.
- Millennials and Gen-Z already actively share information and manage diverse aspects of their lives from dating to weight loss via their mobile devices.
It is inevitable that healthcare, like commerce, will adapt to their expectations for convenience, personalization and 24/7 access. Perhaps the greatest sign that change is on the way is investor interest in the health sector; health tech innovation attracted $2.2 billion in venture investment in the first half of 2014. The future of healthcare is happening right now.
Stephanie Tilenius is Founder and CEO of Vida, a next generation, mobile, continuous care platform and health coach marketplace for consumers and businesses: www.vida.com, @joinvida. Previously, Ms. Tilenius was a founder of PlanetRX, a VP at Google and SVP at Ebay.
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.