On the user side, one of the barriers to the growth of Digital in Consumer Healthcare is that not everybody likes or uses technology. Recent Pew research shows that ownership of portable and mobile technologies tails off significantly among older cohorts; for smartphones in particular, Pew finds that 35 percent of American adults own a smartphone but that the high levels of adoption are among under-45s. In other words, despite the photos of tech-savvy seniors surfing the net, older Americans are less apt to own or use digital technology.
Another barrier is that some consumers may well find that tracking their health metrics is too tedious, too obsessive, too “anal,” or too much like hypochondria.
On the other hand Americans have very long track record of embracing new technology with gusto, from phonographs and automobiles a century ago through radios and TVs to PCs, mobile devices, and social networks. There is no doubt that Americans are more than keen to integrate digital technology into their everyday life. The question is not so much whether they will use digital platforms and services, but rather which of the platforms and services on offer they will actually use at all, and which they will use regularly enough to make a difference.
For instance Apple’s app store boasts over 500,000 apps to choose from, of which well over 12,000 are classified under health and fitness. But how many apps do people actually use? A poll on Lifehacker, a site for geeky types, netted over 6,000 respondents and found that around 80 percent actually used 15 apps or fewer. Some of those 15 are the standard-issue phone, mail, contacts, calendar, messages, music, browser, maps, and weather, covering the sorts of needs that people respond to most regularly.
There are technical barriers, too. Healthcare IT is hobbled by fragmented patchworks of proprietary programs and systems that don’t communicate with each other. Several big players are vying to create the platform that will integrate systems and resolve the fragmentation: Cerner, Epic, and most recently a joint venture between GE and Microsoft.
Whatever the platforms and device may be created, the challenge is to develop digital services that are so useful that they get used regularly. Healthcare providers such as pharma companies should have a natural advantage on this score; sooner or later everybody has to take an interest in their own health or in the health of someone in their life. As the Pew Internet category usage figures show, health is one of the top areas of interest online. One way or another the nation finds healthcare important enough to spend around 17 percent of GDP on it, the biggest proportion of any country in the world.
Increasing healthcare value, reducing healthcare costs
To establish an impactful presence in the new environment of Digital Consumer Healthcare, both traditional healthcare providers and newcomers (e.g., software companies) need to get two things straight. Firstly they need to understand what counts as value (what people are willing to pay for) and what counts as costs for the various players at different points in the healthcare journey. Following that, they need to develop a clear vision of what they can do to increase value or to reduce costs for whom and at what point: whom in the healthcare value chain can they service?
Value: Broadly speaking, for consumers value in healthcare principally means 1) being well and feeling well in good times, 2) being helped back to health if illness or injury strikes, and 3) being reliably supported if they develop chronic conditions. For physicians, value means being able to meet the needs of patients as effectively as possible in terms of both health outcome and finance. For pharma companies, value means developing the right products and getting the products into the minds of the right physicians and working on the health problems of the right patients.
Cost: For consumers, cost means not only the money for insurance, medical consultation, medication, and treatment; all of these also cost time, effort and emotional distress. For physicians there are huge cost burdens, including time spent on administration and keeping up with their field; time and energy spent trying out different treatment regimens; time and effort spent dealing with non-adherent patients. For pharma companies, costs include any money, time, and effort expended on communication that doesn’t connect with the right people or win them over.
For both types of provider – traditional and newcomers – the more Americans become Digital Healthcare Consumers, the more opportunities there are for initiatives to increase value and/or reduce costs.
Larry Mickelberg is chief digital officer and partner at Euro RSCG Life. This post originally ran on the Euro RSCG Life blog.