Imagine your healthcare information is readily available to anyone who wants to buy it—employers who are considering employing you, insurance companies weighing the risk to insure you, lenders considering your ability to repay the loan and more.
This scenario is scary even before we factor in the reality that we are already living in a beyond-Orwellian world where Facebook sold the data of 87 million users to Cambridge Analytica, a company whose sole intent was to use the data to manipulate you.
Consider this: Stolen medical records on the dark web are priced higher than social security numbers and credit card numbers, snatching up to $1,000 per record online, according to Experian. The data can be used to extort or con someone with ailments like a sexually transmitted disease or terminal illness. It can also be used for tax fraud or home equity loan fraud.
Given all of this, is it any surprise that the sharing of healthcare data is highly frowned upon by the government and outright feared by the public?
A Positive Outlook
Yet, if the past is an indication of how technology can solve its problems, Big Tech has far outweighed its downside and healthcare can be no exception. If data were more accessible to tech companies, it could lead to the ability to reduce contagiousness, identifying stroke and other chronic illnesses before a major debilitating event. With it, we may speed the cure of diseases and accomplish the triple aim of improving outcomes and lowering costs.
Big Tech, Big Challenges
The COVID-19 pandemic taught us a great many things, including that tech companies have very little understanding of how healthcare works. As in all things tech, companies like Apple and Google charge into the room intent on being the disruptors. What they aren’t taking into account is that healthcare is unlike any other industry. It’s the single most highly regulated industry in the world—bound by more state and federal acts than we could list here. It’s estimated by the American Hospital Association that health systems, hospitals, and PAC providers spend nearly $39 billion a year solely on the administrative activities related to regulatory compliance in nine domains. By itself, this accounts for $1,200 per visit. Not to mention the regulations that affect insurance companies, providers and Pharma.
These regulations are a big part of why costs continue to increase without seeing real benefits delivered to the customer. Make no mistake, consumers are deeply concerned about who has their healthcare data, and they should. The real opportunity for Big Tech is to recognize the complexities of healthcare and try to become the enablers, not the disruptors. If Big Tech works within the existing system helping hospitals, insurance companies, providers and companies who are challenging the status quo, then maybe we can accomplish the triple aim (improving outcomes and the overall healthcare experience, plus lowering costs) without creating some Orwellian state.
Data Meets Trust
Through the integration of society’s healthcare delivery system as well as our use of social apps and ecommerce platforms on our mobile devices and wearables, we can provide the benefits of data through a system people trust. We have all accepted that our cell phones are constantly collecting data on us and willingly consent to this. Everyone with a cell phone is carrying a medical device that counts our steps, tracks our screen actions, and is attuned to us as users. It makes sense to leverage this function for optimized care—or at the very least, try to get medical insights out of our device use data. For instance, in the future, the number of times someone checks their mobile calendar each day could be an indicator of early onset Alzheimer’s in people of a particular age group. Technologists must continue to push the boundaries of how the computing power in our pockets is used to help us, especially with so much of the groundwork already presented.
To ensure our data has constant protection, tech companies can guarantee data security through evolving technologies such as block chain, given that the nature of block chain is to make it easier to share and store data securely. Alongside block chain, we must also quickly move past wearables in their current form to a next generation medical “bracelet” that carries a patient’s entire genome, tumor profiles, long-term heart rate trends and more, and that uploads instantly in emergencies. Right now, the absence of health record portability creates redundancies that are both expensive and harmful to patients: doctors spend time and resources re-scanning patients, while patients suffer from repeated (and sometimes risky) diagnostics, like blood draws and radiation. Nobody has cracked the code on portability, but effective solutions must navigate tricky regulatory waters while solving for standardization across data sets.
We are already seeing technologies such as this used in other industries. Apple and Google have turned phones into remote monitoring devices that can easily collect all types of health telemetry data. Cryptocurrency represents billions of dollars in transactions with no breach of trust in various coin exchanges. Uber and Lyft have changed the way we hire, use, and pay for transportation. Applying the core technologies used in each of these examples to healthcare would provide a means for disrupting the current challenges in the industry. It’s only a matter of time.
Ultimately, the data we get from our apps and wearable devices must be integrated into electronic medical records so it can be interfaced and actionable. As long as Big Tech accepts the healthcare system realities and focuses on becoming an enabler, not a disruptor, that will allow for easier sharing of records to improve patient experience and reduce preventative care costs.
About the Author
Paul Johnson is the CEO and co-founder of Redirect Health, a company that makes healthcare work end-to-end using technology and a passion for care.