Looking Through the Crystal Ball: FutureMed

Last week I spent four days at the exclusive FutureMed conference in San Diego.

FutureMed is, as the name implies, a conference focused on understanding the future of health and care delivery. There were speakers from virtually every sub-vertical in healthcare, and even traditionally non-healthcare verticals such as 3D printing and robotics. I was particularly pleased by the fact that very few of the speakers at FutureMed spoke about the hottest terms in health IT today: medication adherence, population health management, and patient engagement.

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Adapt to Stay Relevant

My last post laid out what I think will be the driving force behind the growth, adoption, and scaling of digital health services. It’s changing expectations from consumer and patients. These expectations have changed mostly because of consumer experiences outside of healthcare (education, banking, retail, etc.) There are also some generational and societal changes in expectations regarding convenience and access, as well as ownership and autonomy in decision making. As a society, we’re not quite as fond of paternalistic interactions as we used to be — we think we should have more of a say in decisions even if we don’t necessarily exercise that say. If you combine these changing expectations with services that are somewhat integrated with existing health delivery, we’ll start to see some of these digital health services scale.

Patients will come to expect easy access to data, resources, and clinicians. Providers and systems have to adapt to compete. If providers don’t adapt, they run the risk of losing market and mind share to other providers. What’s unique about healthcare is that there are a lot of turf wars and overlapping services that threaten providers.

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The Proliferation of Healthcare Marketplaces

Some of the fundamental tenets of capitalism are that that markets are free, open, and transparent. Healthcare is notoriously opaque, with little to no price competition within a given region. As such, many have pushed for marketplaces in healthcare.

The Proliferation of Healthcare Marketplaces

The marketplace proponents argue that marketplaces will increase transparency and competition, and in doing so, create value and usher in a new wave of innovation. The Obama administration recognized this some time ago, and gave up a lot of political capital to push for federal and state health insurance exchanges as part of the Affordable Care Act.

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Changing Expectations Coming to Health

I’ve been skeptical of the consumer wave coming to healthcare. I’m doubtful that consumers will adopt — independently of providers — modern digital health tools (apps, messaging services, etc.) at a scale and in a way that will drive the mass adoption of these services into mainstream healthcare. But now I’m starting to break on my stance on consumer-driven digital health. It’s not because I think most people are going to adopt digital health tools on their own, but because I think they’ll demand them as part of the offerings of providers.

Changing Expectations Coming to Health

Consumers have come to expect a certain experience for services outside of healthcare. They want better and cheaper banking and credit options, which is why Mint is successful. They want a better way to learn, especially without committing to four years at an expensive university with a competitive application process, which is why thousands of people register for courses on Coursera and millions listen to Khan Academy lessons. They expect to be able to sit down at a computer for a few hours, be guided through simple questionnaires, and automatically submit their tax returns to the IRS, which is why TurboTax is awesome and only gets better every year. They increasingly expect to be able to find and buy products at any time from any place and Amazon provides that.

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In Vendors We Trust

We put a lot of faith and power, in the hands of vendors that collect, store, and transmit data. Data is exceptionally valuable in healthcare for a lot of different parties, and it can be used for both good and evil. A good use of data would be to provide population health-based insights that help prioritize and roll out campaigns for different segments of the population. A bad use of data would be to increase the cost of coverage (not as much of an issue any more) or to market health services directly to patients that might not be in their best interest, whether that be for medical or financial reasons. There are many gray areas there as well.

We do it outside of healthcare, too, with the data we passively and actively give to companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter. These companies exist largely on data and the insights and marketing they can derive and sell from it. I don’t mind too much the tracking outside of healthcare because I’m resigned that it’s just the way things work.

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