It comes as no news to most of us that while many in the U.S. claim that we have the best healthcare system in the world, the reality is that we don’t, despite the fact that we spend more per capita than any other country, by a long shot. According to the most objective measures of the World Health Organization, the U.S. ranks first in expenditures, spending almost $9,000 per person per year, but when you look at outcomes, we’re near the bottom of the list. What’s most frustrating about those facts is that it isn’t because of a lack of investment or innovation. Despite the less than stellar results, the American healthcare industry has never been shy about leveraging technology to improve patient care.
Perhaps the problem is that we’ve been investing billions of dollars every year in the wrong things. What I mean is that healthcare providers are willing to spend money on big, expensive machines to improve diagnosis but those machines need to be used, and that costs money. And healthcare is big business in this country. For example. there’s a reason why the United States leads the world in the use of expensive devices like MRI machines; once a clinic has invested the hundreds of thousands of dollars it cost to install one of these things, they need to get a return on that investment, so they refer a lot of patients to get an MRI, whether they really need it or not, as long as insurance is paying for it. So, in fact, the use of technology in medicine has increased rather than decreased the cost of healthcare in the U.S., which is the direct opposite effect one would expect.
But that is changing, fast, and it’s largely because of the vision of Steve Jobs, although there’s no way he could’ve foreseen it. Let me explain. When Apple computer introduced the iPhone, under the leadership of Jobs, they created a revolution in technology that shifted the paradigm from a world of innovation driven by companies who designed technology to one where the consumers who bought the iPhone suddenly were in charge. This so-called consumerization of technology has had a dramatic impact across all industries and it’s finally starting to impact the healthcare industry and, as a result, lower the cost of healthcare.
The iPhone, and the multitude of Android and Windows smartphones that followed, have become platforms that developers have embraced to create all sorts of healthcare-related technology that equals or even surpasses some of the equipment doctors use in their offices at a fraction of the cost. You can now monitor your own blood-pressure, your stress level, your temperature and a whole hosts of other biometric vital signs on a real-time basis and we can upload all that information into cloud-based systems that can slice and dice that data to tell you how we’re doing and if anything is wrong with you.
Speaking of Apple, they’ve finally realized the potential of the healthcare revolution they started. They just announced a new app called, appropriately, Health, for the iPhone as well as a new cloud platform called Healthkit that will allow partners to build applications and services that will be delivered via the iPhone and iPad and which will also be available to healthcare professionals, allowing them to interact with their patients online in a secure environment that protects patient information. Healthcare providers may be late to the party, but they are adapting quickly and using the same low-cost technology available to consumers to reduce their costs. I just heard about a project coming out of the Mayo Clinic that has the potential to eliminate the need for colonoscopies, whoopee! Instead, very powerful computers will be able to provide the same diagnosis by just testing your blood and other fluids to determine if you have polyps or other symptoms that may indicate cancer. Imagine how much cheaper that’s going to be?
What we are seeing is not only a future where healthcare costs are lowered dramatically, we’re also seeing a 180 degree shift in the doctor-patient relationship, where consumers, now armed with the information they are gathering for themselves about themselves, control their own healthcare data and are active participants in medical decisions made about their health rather than victims of a healthcare system that treats them as a source of revenue.