The idea of digital health seems to represent a strong indication towards consumerism in healthcare – a notion that individuals take full ownership of their health, whether that is behavioral such as personal health monitoring, or quite literally e.g. ownership of medical records. Most of this represents little or no value in current time, because consumer ownership of healthcare does not change the engagement with the healthcare sector in any profound way. Surely there may be tons of health data stored somewhere in the care continuum, but it is neither applied in scale or meaningfully, nor is it considered to be so. There a many reasons for this including interoperability issues, workflow misalignment, lack of feasibility given current operational emphasis of healthcare providers, low quality data and many more.
What consumer-focused digital health solutions really should emphasize is providing the tools to help consumers or patients take responsibility for their own health. This would be a paradigm shift i.e. how each consumer can enable every single clinical interaction to be valuable, personalized and direct, as opposed to showing up to the doctor’s office without any evidence supporting symptoms, declining or improving health, medication adherence etc. Solutions along the entire care continuum would then allow the healthcare sector to achieve operational excellence in clinical care, which is really the goal of any healthcare provider.
Why is it necessary to make this distinction between ownership and responsibility? It is important because a typical value proposition communicated by consumer-focused digital health companies is taking ownership of one’s health – an unrealistic claim, as people are incapable of doing so. Medicine is a science, which cannot be disseminated entirely to people who are not trained in the field, through the use of multimedia. That does not necessarily mean that doctors are the only medium or part of a higher power institution, but their knowledge and underlying science is humanity’s only reference point in medicine. Synthesizing digital concepts based on the science to help patients take responsibility is the true potential of digital health. One example of a technology doing exactly this is Babylon – a medical chatbot app powered by artificial intelligence (AI). Based on an average of 12 text-based interactions, it will resolve any non-emergency medical issue/question. This service is currently being tested by the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK and covers more than 1.2 million residents in London. With Babylon consumers can access the expertise and science of medicine on-demand. Long-term, applications like Babylon or Baidu (a similar service in China), will grow the confidence of consumers and patients, and ultimately improve the clinical experience.
Beyond technologies, new provider models are emerging that are highly consumer focused e.g. Forward, a San Francisco based startup that charges $149 a month for a state-of-the-art medical facility, which includes unlimited access to available medical services, basic screening, blood and genetic testing, remote monitoring, access to AI applications and around the clock access to medical staff. Forward differentiates itself by marketing a subscription service directly to consumers. This also implies that the user base comprises highly engaged consumers who are willing to pay $149 a month. Coupled with the nature of Forward’s services, their clients are able to take full responsibility of their health.
Conversations on how the looming global health crisis can be solved often revolve around what the healthcare sector can do for each individual. A big part of this will be enabling populations to take responsibility for their state of health. In other words, what can each individual do to improve his/her state of health?
For questions or inquiries, please contact Roeen Roashan, Roeen.Roashan@ihsmarkit.com.