Opinion

Consumers Can Drive Greatest Changes in Health Care

Every organization, state or nation has its own set of health care challenges. But could open data and ubiquitous access be the key to unlocking better health for all of us? Imagine what would happen if everyone started thinking about their own health information as their personal roadmap for better health.

Right now, health care providers and insurance companies are immersed in moving from a fee-for-service system to one that pays based on the value and outcomes of care. They’re also bringing greater focus on wellness as a way to prevent the chronic illnesses overtaking our populations. These are important steps toward building a sustainable health care system. However, I believe the consumer will ultimately be the greatest driver of change.

As head of iTriage, a consumer health care technology company within Aetna, and a relative newcomer to health care, I see a multitude of opportunities for the individual patient and consumer to be a driving force in changing how health care is consumed, paid for and delivered.

Just as we’ve seen in other industries, consumers will demand information they want and need delivered through channels they use for every other part of their lives. And they already expect to access that information 24/7. This is a big challenge for a system that is heavily siloed, incredibly complex and designed for the health care community, not the health care consumer. If we can tie together what I call the three P’s – health care Providers, insurance Payers and People – we can facilitate greater data sharing. More data means more transparency on factors such as outcomes and costs for specific procedures performed at specific facilities. This will lead to better insights and decisions, not just for patients, but for everyone in health care.

Consumers will also be the catalyst for simple and easy access to these insights coupled with mass-market adoption. For those who have them, connected devices and smart phones provide easy, convenient and ubiquitous access to health information when people need it in order to take action. Eventually consumers will demand solutions for access in regions of the world where it currently doesn’t exist. And to avoid widening the gap in access to health care, new solutions will have to address the need for connected devices for those who don’t currently have them.

Together with consumers, iTriage is part of a movement to democratize health care. Until access to the internet became commonplace worldwide, health care had been very paternalistic. Now people have access to more data, information and insights in order to take more control over their own health care. This benefits health care providers as well, since more educated, health-literate patients may have better outcomes and higher satisfaction with their treatment. Ultimately, the democratization of health care augments the expert care consumers receive from providers for healthier lives overall.

This new consumer-driven environment of transparency, access and engagement will give individuals more direct involvement in their own health and wellness. In fact, it will require that involvement. Greater individual accountability can lead to better health and lower costs. We just need to give people the tools and incentive to take control.

Since we first launched our free iTriage app, it has been downloaded nearly 13 million times — a testament to the appetite for mobile technologies that help people lead healthier lives.

This drive toward more individual engagement in personal health is receiving a boost from health providers, as well. I recently met with 40 CEOs of large health systems that are in the transformational shift from care volume to care value. Each of these health care professionals wants to help people before they have to manage their chronic conditions. They’re working toward achieving this in numerous ways, including leveraging technologies like iTriage. Economics have fragmented our health system. And whether it’s collaboration between public and private health systems or infrastructure challenges, we need to ask first what people need. And then we need to give them to tools to change their lives.

Jim Greiner is the head of Aetna’s iTriage. This article can also be found on Aetna’s Health Section.

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