One by one, Silicon Valley heavyweights are rolling up their sleeves and making moves to reinvent American health care. On the heels of the CVS-Aetna merger, Amazon announced intentions to form its own health care company with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase. Apple followed suit. Now there are whispers — loud whispers — that Google will enter the fray.
My last Forbes article looked at how health care could end up in an Orwellian-esque nightmare, with a bevy of future technologies constantly and silently monitoring every lifestyle decision we make and rewarding — or penalizing — us accordingly.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the best possible outcome.
IoT Devices, Our New BFFs
Preventive care is a powerful piece of the puzzle the current U.S. health care system has miserably failed to leverage, but it is a piece that these tech giants will bring to bear to cut costs.
If the worst-case scenario is a kind of dystopia, the best-case scenario is one where privacy concerns are adequately addressed, and these same IoT devices serve as an army of allies to provide a wealth of information that we can use to make healthy choices.
The co-chair and senior adviser of the Bipartisan Policy Center Prevention Task Force recently noted in a U.S. News & World Report op-ed: “Our behaviors … are the primary determinants of health and well-being. And when it comes to health, the old trope is true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Prevention can reduce the risk factors that lead to chronic diseases, slow their progression, improve overall health, and reduce health care spending.”
Harnessing this information would empower Americans and would drastically reduce health care costs.
Health Care Tailored To Suit
These new IoT devices would guarantee extremely personalized care: Patients would be armed with a detailed, holistic view of their health, interpreted by artificial intelligence and delivered to health care providers so that every aspect of patients’ lives could be addressed before poor lifestyle choices led to illness.
They would also allow for faster diagnoses. Sebastian Thrun, a professor of computer science at Stanford best known for his work on self-driving cars, imagines a world where, as noted by New Yorker columnist Siddhartha Mukherjee, “Cell phones would analyze shifting speech patterns to diagnose Alzheimer’s. A steering wheel would pick up incipient Parkinson’s through small hesitations and tremors. A bathtub would perform sequential scans as you bathe to determine whether there’s a new mass in an ovary that requires investigation.”
In this world, illnesses could be treated sooner and more effectively, which would provide better outcomes for patients’ health and their checkbooks.
The Marriage Of Big Data And Live Data
Additionally (and it is already starting), patients will have their electronic health record stored in a smartphone app so every care provider has instantaneous visibility into their health history, recent diagnoses, chronic conditions and, most importantly, the medications they are taking. This information is integral in avoiding and correcting negative drug interactions, or “medication reconciliation,” and will provide a level of transparency and cohesion of care that neither patients nor health care providers have ever had before.
Last but not least, humans and IoT working together will yield massive amounts of invaluable big data that the research community can use to further understand and treat the illnesses that plague us — indeed, the National Institute of Health’s All Of Us campaign and Project Baseline are already actively recruiting people to share health data to “speed up health research breakthroughs.” When this new big data is combined with “live data” — the information collected by health care providers in face-to-face medical encounters — it will help paint a complete, holistic view of the patient.
Speaking of health care providers, America’s current health care system is essentially built around one: the primary care physician (PCP). Fever, sore throat, heart flutter? Make an appointment with your PCP. Suffer from a chronic condition like diabetes or high blood pressure? Your PCP manages your care. Need a specialist? Your PCP refers you.
The problem is that this system doesn’t work for a lot of people. There’s scheduling, logistical issues and, of course, there are the millions of uninsured Americans who don’t even have a PCP. And if all of these barriers to entry weren’t enough, the number of PCPs is on the decline.
In the worst-case future scenario, doctors are eliminated altogether. But in the best-case scenario, these companies lean further into a decentralized model where patients are treated for chronic conditions by local health care providers, like clinics and community pharmacists, and visits to the hospital are reserved for acute conditions. As noted in a recent New York Times article, people have begun seeking out this model on their own.
The Renaissance Of Patient-Centric Care
This will have several major benefits. For one, it will be more convenient. It will mean faster care closer to home. For another, it will mean a renaissance of patient-centric care: Instead of the quick visits with overbooked PCPs rushing from room to room, patients will get quality time with their health care providers, which promotes wellness in and of itself. In fact, new tech players are already offering 75-minute provider visits.
If these companies play their cards right, we may well end up with a highly effective health care system that leverages preventive care, local care and IoT technologies to keep the population healthy at a fraction of the current cost. It truly is great to see the entrance of new tech players aiming to place patients at the center of care. It only validates what independent pharmacies have known for years.
Most likely, when the dust settles and American health care has been “Uberized,” we’ll end up with neither a dystopia nor a utopia but something with elements of both. And that is a massive upgrade from what we have now. Here’s to hoping we can pull it off.