The Future of Medicine – Are Terms Like “Health” & “Care” Becoming Obsolete?

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The October 2012 issue of Inc. magazine has an article of “The Coming Revolution in Health Care”.  Now, the mission of Inc. is to “to guide CEOs and owners of small-to-midsize companies to success”.  So it not surprising that it thinks that the future of healthcare lies with entrepreneurs. And considering how many people are trying to make money by writing phone apps, maybe it is only natural that they also seem to feel that this is what health care needs.  In any case, see if you find their list of “big ideas” wonderful or horrible or maybe both:


1.  “Medicine is a Marketplace”

Perhaps you have been under the impression that medicine is about caring, helping, or something like that.  How old-fashioned!

Consider ZocDoc: this “online service for researching and scheduling appointments with doctors, can get an appointment within a day or two,” free for consumers and $300 a month for doctors. Its founder told CBS that “Healthcare is an industry that’s in deep need of transformation.”  One could only hope that those undergoing that transformation have the means to pay for it!

2. “The Consumer is King”

More and more, we are learning that health care users are no longer patients: they are consumers. If you are a vendor in the medicine marketplace, you’ve got to attract them.

For example, Castlight, which last year “raised $100 million in a Series D funding round, a record for a health care IT start-up,” helps companies comparison shop for medical procedures.  It calls itself “the leader in health care transparency”; one assumes that means in regard to how money runs the system.

Salt allows consumer-kings to find the lowest price for such things as “sore throat, vaccination, or food poisoning”.  It web site admits that “healthcare is a mess”.

3.  “The Digital Health Record is Here”

No one can dispute that claim, backed up by federal mandates.  That computerization actually may not reduce costs is no deterrent to start-ups getting on the bandwagon.

Patients Know Best sounds like a mantra of the patient experience movement but is actually the name of a U. K. company that “puts patients in control of their medical records”.  Hospitals pay to have the data encrypted and transferred to an account that the patient – I mean, consumer – can then make available to other care providers.  One anticipates that another start-up will then offer these individuals an application allowing them to find who will pay the most to get such information.

4. “Health Care is Social”

This is not a novel idea: since the beginnings of medicine, a connection between society and health has been recognized.  What is new is the connection between health care consumers and the social media industry.Transparent red cross

One example is Crohnology, still in Beta, “the most powerful way to connect people with Crohn’s and colitis”.  It is already looking for other medical conditions for such sharing; perhaps hypochondria (after all, it is a “real disorder”) would be a candidate.

Patients Like Me figures to be a true delight for the hypochondriac. It is currently linking over 178,000 patients (the web site uses that term rather than “consumer”) with over 1,000 conditions.  It makes money by selling data to pharmaceutical companies and medical device makers (but evidently not yet psychiatrists).

5. “The House Call Makes a Comeback”

They mean “virtually speaking”.  Your healthcare plan is unlikely to send someone to your door, but you if have the means and the money you can get a visit on your computer or cell phone.

Direct Dermatology allows one to upload pictures for an on-line consultation with a board-certified dermatologist for $85 (no insurance coverage).  So far, however, it’s available only for those in California and Hawaii.  The company was given a $250,000 grant by the California HealthCare Foundation’s Health Innovation Fund, which (in the words of Dermatology Times) is “intended to support healthcare entrepreneurs who offer an innovative service, device or technology that can significantly reduce costs and improve access to care in California.”

More generally, HealthTap connects consumers with over 30,000 physicians on-line or by cell phone.  Sample questions on its web site include “What can be causing a painful breast lump and hand/arm pain?” and “How long does it take for a sleeping pill to work?”  The answers are free, but you can get an on-line chat consultation for just $9.99.  The doctors evidently get no compensation except free advertising. It has an app in the iTunes store.

6. “The Algorithm Is In”

Developed by two Johns Hopkins medical students, Symcat is an online and mobile software that determines possible causes of one’s symptoms based on information In the CDC database.  Its founders believe that “people given access to information the right way will make good decisions.”

Symcat won an award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Aligning Forces for Quality Developer Challenge.  It also received funding from Blueprint Health, an accelerator for the healthcare and wellness industry.

7. “Your Doctor Is Watching You”

It is logical that follow-up care also has such new technological options.  A kind of CRM for doctors, Medivo provides reminders for lab visits and taking medication and on-line access to lab reports.  It is free for botdrive thruh doctors and patients, as it makes money by selling advertising.

By contrast, CareSpeak Communications uses text messages for medical reminders and communication, creating what it calls a “circle of care”.  Patients, pharmaceutical companies, doctors, and hospitals pay a fee for using it. Its CEO says that “The systems that win will be those that get consumers to engage the most”.

All very remarkable!  Certainly there is a lot of good in such endeavors.  Anything that lessens unnecessary emergency room visits sounds laudable, though the extent to which that is a problem may be exaggerated. Involving people in their healthcare presumably leads to better outcomes.

Yet there also seems to be a disturbing side to this trend.  The gap in care between those who have money and those who don’t may widen.  And what happens when healthcare is perceived as just another commodity?

Jim murphyJim Murphy has a solo consulting practice called Management 3000, focusing on organizational development and change management. Formerly he led the Massachusetts Bay Organizational Development Learning Group, was Human Resources Director for the City of Boston Assessing Department, and served as a consultant with the Boston Management Consortium.  His consulting practice includes management coaching as well as research and writing on employee relationships, leadership, healthcare and collaborative practices.  Having produced newsletters for several organizations  and being a frequent content writer for the”Confident Voices in Healthcare” blog, he is interested in writing and research opportunities, as we all consulting and coaching.





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2 Responses to The Future of Medicine – Are Terms Like “Health” & “Care” Becoming Obsolete?

  1. Pingback: Innovation in Medicine and Nursing– Can Our Spirited Creativity Align with Human Side of Health CARE!

  2. Jim, thank you for this provocative post! Although I can read through these ideas and see both productive and counterproductive outcomes, what worries me most, (in addition to the financial gap you highlight), is the focus that these innovations have on DISEASE rather than HEALTH. They seem to be very medically model-driven rather than preventive. I think that profit-making and disease focus are two of the most pervasive and underlying problems we have in USA “healthcare”. And further, that the funding exists to promote these from RWJF. A foundation which I’ve always associated with more humane ideals. Maybe ‘access to care’ is a concept that has roots in both providing health care and making money from it. This would explain a variety of outcomes and funding. Ultimately, if we are going to ‘fix’ healthcare we have to agree as a nation, what we want it to look like. More and more, I’m leaning to single payer and point to the Physicians for a National Health Program as a best resource.

What are your thoughts?