Consumers reshaping healthcare landscape

Comments from a trio of mHealth heavyweights at last week's 2014 International CES could indicate the mobile healthcare field is leaning toward a new business model.

Joseph Kvedar. MD, founder and director of Partners Healthcare's Center for Directed Health, opened his panel discussion at the CES' Digital Health Summit by mentioning that he was surprised to be attending a consumer-oriented conference, then noting how many healthcare companies are turning their attention to consumers.

And Yan Chow, MD, director of Kaiser Permanente's Innovation and Advanced Technology Group, pointed out during a separate session that the murky regulation landscape is driving innovation out of healthcare and into the consumer market.

Finally, there was Orlando Portale, Palomar Health's Chief Innovation Officer and creator of its Glassomics institute, opining that 95 percent of the nation's healthcare organizations are too wrapped up in ICD-10, meaningful use and other mandates to pay much attention to innovation. mHealth startups, he said, "can't gain traction in the healthcare system because there are only a handful (of providers) that they can deal with."

These takeaways from the two-day Digital Health Summit, and the gradual encroachment of mHealth onto the CES show floor – not to mention standing-room-only attendance at the summit – would seem to indicate that mHealth is enjoying a surge in consumer-related business while struggling to gain traction in healthcare.

Perhaps it's just helping to redefine healthcare. Gone are the days of the doctor issuing edicts from the office or hospital; instead, doctors and patients are discussing health and wellness, and using smartphones, tablets and mobile health devices to keep the conversation going. Consumers are more in control of their health decisions, and doctors are there to guide them along.

"Patient engagement is as much about patient empowerment s anything else," said Travis Stork, MD, chairman of the medical advisory board for MDLIVE and an Emmy-nominated host of the talk show 'The Doctors.' "Healthcare is not something to do to a patient. It should be something you do with a patient."

Much of the Digital Health Summit was focused on seeing the patient as a consumer, rather than someone who will blindly take commands from a doctor. With sessions like "Reaching Brand Nirvana," "The Empowered Consumer" and "Loudmouth Patients: Making Noise and Making Change," the summit sought to convince clinicians (and there were plenty in attendance) that they need to be partners with their patients, working with them not just during a healthcare crisis but at all times, helping to manage their health and wellness.

"What I love now is we are finally changing healthcare so that it is truly about health," Stork said. "We can prevent so much of the illness that takes place in this country by equipping people withy the tools they need."

It goes without saying that equipping doctors with the tools they need would help, too. Pierre Theodore, MD, the Van Auken Endowed Chair of Thoracic Surgery at the University of California San Francisco Medical School, said consumers expect their doctors to have the latest in technology, and will go to clinics or hospitals that are using that technology.

Chuck Parker, executive director of the Continua Health Alliance, said health networks here and in other parts of the world are redesigning the traditional method of healthcare to create care teams – family members, specialists and the patient. In places like Denmark and Singapore, he added, hospitals are being reconfigured to enable "healthcare without boundaries."

In the United States, that trend is seen in accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes. Those concepts, in turn, are attracting the attention of investors.

"I think it's exciting," said Todd Hixon, managing partner for New Atlantic Ventures. "It's a whole different idea of investing than what's been done before."

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