Redefining Health Through Empowered Individuals

Lately, we’ve been working to understand the implications of two seemingly disparate advancements.

The first concerns an action taken by the Department of Defense this summer. The DOD let a massive new contract for its Defense Healthcare Management System to the team of Cerner, Leidos and Accenture Federal. The project’s goal is to build a national health information network that will allow health records to follow patients no matter where they are – from a VA hospital, to a tent in a war zone, to a retail clinic, to an app on their smart phones.

The second advancement concerns all the gadgets we’ve started wearing to measure our metabolic functions. We have wristbands to chart our fitness programs, measure our fluid intake, report on our sleep patterns, and assist with our meditation practice. We even have sensors that beep when we need to apply more sunscreen. Diabetics have sensors that monitor their glucose levels continually. Patients can use their smart phones and telemedicine to consult a doctor about injuries and illnesses. Sensors can even measure and report issues like acid reflux levels and irregularities in a heartbeat.

When we understand the implications of these event progressions, we can envision a world where all the data we collect about our daily activities becomes part of our health “footprint” which follows us from cradle to grave. Individuals will have the ability to access, consume, analyze, enrich, direct, and share digital information about past, current and future status of their health and quantify behaviors that are affecting their health. Think that’s a stretch? Let us break down our ideas.

As the DOD works to consolidate health records across systems for millions of people enrolled in its programs, it will influence healthcare information systems for everyone. Creating a massive database and interactive system available to almost all healthcare organizations will teach the DOD team invaluable lessons about what works and what doesn’t. Companies working in the private sector will learn from the DOD project, too. We see this massive human-to-network initiative to be the basis for a proactive health system in the future.

Once health information systems can handle information about our health, we can add information from all the sensors we’ve started wearing and the multiple applications we are using to status our behaviors and health. If your doctor wants to know how much you exercise, all he or she has to do is check your exercise records. If you’re having trouble with sleep, you can access your sleep charts. When you want to boost your performance or affect a particular aspect of your total health, multi-function health sensors and next-generation applications will give you the ability to modify your behavior for success.

When envisioning this future, we must consider who owns your health data. Right now, the treating physician, hospital, or clinic owns your medical records. They might give you copies of your records, but the originals stay with them. What would happen if the patient owned the records and all of their health data?

If you owned all information concerning your health and behaviors, would you be willing to share your information with certain doctors or facilities? Would you be willing to share it with insurance companies? Would you be willing to share it with your employer? Now here’s the real question: Would you be willing to SELL your information? And if so, to whom and at what price?

This shift in power, away from institutions, authority figures, and businesses and toward empowered consumers, has already started. We have the ability to rate our doctors, teachers, and employers on platforms that provide transparency for the first time. We can examine a hospital’s infection or readmission rates before we choose a facility. We can determine which doctor has the most experience with a particular procedure. We can shop for the best price for a service, treatment, or medication.

It is only a matter of time before consumers will expect to control all of their information. Major disruption will begin when customers say, “This is my health information. I own it. I determine who has access to it.”

Business leaders who plan for this shift will ask questions like: How can I partner with my customers or employees to know more about them? How would I change my business offerings if I knew how healthy my customers or employees are and what services they need? Could I help my employees to become healthier or eliminate potential hazards and risks that could reduce health claims and subsequent costs to the business? Could information about my customers help the company design new products and services for them?

The DOD Healthcare Management System initiative will provide a backbone for many different types of innovation, if it’s successful. If it’s not, we will learn important lessons from the effort and will adapt our response based on what we’ve learned.

Successful or not, we probably haven’t begun to imagine the impact of the connections being made between, people, networks, and things, enabled by technology. Boundaries will shift and reshape. New business models will emerge. New value will be created by empowered individuals. Disruption will redefine what health is and how we manage it. As consumers take ownership of their health information, both industry and government will have to adapt to the change.

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