By Dr. Bettina Experton, MD, MPH
CEO of Humetrix

There is a global shift happening, with citizens around the world challenging the status quo and demanding change. It is also poised to change the face of health care. As we have become more connected to information, and enabled with technology in our hands at all times, we are demanding transparency across every facet of our lives, including the way we pay for and consume healthcare.

In a world where rising healthcare costs and out of pocket expenses are realities that affect all of us – the people are demanding greater visibility into their care, and to cure the health of our economies, the role of the healthcare consumer is being reconsidered. This means that the citizen-patient is poised to exercise new consumer-regulating pressures on a healthcare system, which until now, was treating patients as passive players.

Government regulations have typically only focused on the most obvious health care industry economic actors – providers, insurers, and the pharmaceutical industry.  This has left patients at a distinct disadvantage as passive recipients of regulatory policies and economic forces they could not control. But at a time of skyrocketing healthcare costs, economies around the world are calling for consumers to step in, while there is a growing movement to “flip the script” and give patients the transparency they demand, enabled by technology that allows them to access the information and knowledge they need.

Transparency and consumer engagement enabled by mobile health information technology can be part of the cure to what ails healthcare systems: tremendous waste from medical errors and redundancies amounting to one third of total costs according to the Institute of Medicine in the US, with the same striking waste figures in Europe. Currently, our most notable “achievement” in healthcare appears to be inefficiency.  Health spending has reached $3 trillion – or about 18 percent of GDP.  And yet, we aren’t even close to seeing the improvements in health outcomes that we should experience. In fact, life expectancy is actually declining for some of us. But putting patients in control of their own medical data can turn the tide.

When patients carry, manage and share their own health history and self-monitoring data with their doctors, medical errors, redundant testing, and time wasted on trying to diagnose without a full picture of the patient’s history decline significantly.  With this consumer-driven approach come improvements in clinical outcomes, and major cost efficiencies. Mobile is the only way to deliver this type of data access and sharing to citizen-patients at-scale.

Humetrix has pioneered the movement to empower patients with their own data.  Our mobile platforms – iBlueButton for assembling and managing personal health records; SOS QR for sharing health history with first responders during an emergency, and communicating with loved ones; and TENSIO for managing lifestyle and medication for patients with hypertension – all focus on using mobile devices to put the patient in control of all of their own health information.

Now, we must see government, employers, and others across the health industry take action to further empower us all.  What will it take to get us where we need to go?

1) Government must deliver on its policies. With a global focus on transparency causing seismic shifts, it is time for government policies to stop regulating with the industry in mind – and start focusing on its citizens.  Healthcare reform and Health IT policies must move toward a patient-first mindset, and be developed and enforced in a way the puts the power in people’s hands. Payment reforms and financial incentives should not only reward providers – as this approach has failed in the past. A change of acronym – from HMO to ACO or MACRA – will not be sufficient. We also need to incent and reward engaged patients who step in to better manage their healthcare and drive system efficiencies.

The replacement of Obamacare with a consumer-driven and true “patient-centered” philosophy is the perfect time to rethink the system with engaged and rewarded consumers.

2) Employers, who in the US bear the largest share of health insurance costs, must make mobile health tools available. If they want to control costs and improve efficiencies to benefit their own bottom line, employers will work to make patient facing-technology available; incent their providers to share information with their patients to give them more control and visibility over diagnostic and treatment options; and reward employees who are actively engaged in the management of their healthcare.

3) Citizen-patients must make their voices heard. Let’s all make it clear to our governments, employers, providers, and insurers that we demand visibility – and power – in our own care. To make this happen on the American policy side, let’s support and drive government-led health care reform that strengthens citizens’ latest HIPAA rights to access their electronic records, a piece of Obamacare to keep, along with requiring insurers to provide coverage to those with pre-existing conditions. However with the replacement of Obamacare, let’s make sure that this transparency and information right is operationalized, as it was neither communicated to the public nor enforced by the Obama Administration. Organizations like the Consumer Technology Association organizing the CES can help bring this consumer voice to the discussion, just as the American Medical Association and American Hospital Association are voicing requests from their perspectives to the in-coming Administration.

In Europe, both UK and French government health policy leaders have publicly announced their own mobile Blue Button initiatives with national deployments by mid 2017, seizing upcoming national elections to give power to the healthcare consumer! Let’s embrace and whole-heartedly support these remarkable initiatives!

Changes and disruptions in Washington and in Europe present an opportunity that we must seize to truly transform healthcare with a “Consumer-Citizen first” mindset.  There is a global economic, political and public health imperative to act. Empowered with technology-driven information and knowledge, citizens can make it happen now!