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Readers Write: Healthcare Consumerism

Healthcare Consumerism
By Helen Figge

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Everyone has at least one healthcare catastrophe to share. Mine is simple. My mother died of a mischievous breast cancer that disintegrated her bones, but only after it was missed “buried” in a pile of papers several years before.

One sentence tells all in a scribbled office note: “current testing could not rule out malignancy — suggest follow up.” The problem was that no one ever informed my mother. We only found incidentally upon her demise. The electronic health record with data exchange capabilities could have given a temporary reprieve.

Technology, however, did enter her life before her untimely death. Mobile technology in her final days delivered every hospital amenity into her home, supporting her last wish “to die in the same room I was born in,”which was 64 years earlier. Innovative healthcare technologies do indeed play a role and can satisfy the healthcare consumer, but certainly in this instance, arrived too late to be her savior.

Technologies are gearing more towards self-monitoring, self-direction and consumer empowerment. At least 52 percent of smartphone users directly gather their health-related information along with indications of how poorly or well one is living life. Healthcare technologies are creating an opportunity for the consumer’s total control of his/her own health destiny. But is this proactive or counter-productive? Is it a sustainable model for healthcare awareness?

Companies are offering technologies that provide the consumer access to laboratory results via apps that are private, secure, and fast, able to be viewed 24/7. However, in some instances, inaccurate results create self-doubt to the end user and clinicians. As the next chapters of technology dissemination evolve, vendors need to better understand what the end user is really looking for in order to support and sustain this new wave of healthcare consumerism.

Chronic diseases are often manageable and sometimes even preventable, yet the healthcare delivery system seems to do better at optimizing managing rather than preventing diseases. In order to turn the pendulum around in healthcare delivery and disease prevention and finally make us all healthy, a technology solution set is needed that is all-encompassing and that comes second nature to the end user. The true challenge in healthcare is to implement a practical solution that comes second nature to us in life’s daily workflow.

Several studies in healthcare show that most consumers want to use digital services for healthcare regardless of age, thanks to the success of Facebook and other social media platforms. The demand for mobile healthcare is definitely there and is resonating throughout all age groups. Consumers also state that they do not want bells and whistles, but the simple brick and mortar in the healthcare technologies to service their basic needs (supporting efficiency and accuracy). Reinforcing the phrase, “Going big is not always better.”

Given the leveling off of healthcare technology spending, the industry needs to better listen to the healthcare consumer’s wish and bring us back to the basics. Our society is not short of technology solutions, but the healthcare consumer is realizing that for health sustainability, sometimes the reliability and usability of a product might now be worth the effort to keep it.

Providing solutions that will allow self-diagnosis and self reflection are the first steps in acknowledging illness, thereafter empowering steps of going to a clinician for an unbiased assessment.

Helen Figge, PharmD, MBA is senior vice president of LumiraDx of Waltham, MA.