You'd think a symposium on 'connected health', a Boston conference with 1000 attendees that included investors (who warned that there was going to be a bloodbath of failed startups) as well as vendors and tech-aware doctors would be inspiring, but the actual experience was quite the opposite. Sponsored by Partners Healthcare, a Boston consortium of hospitals and providers, it had a bit of an 'institutional' feel to it. Plenty of vendors, all dreaming about insurance reimbursement for technologies like home health monitoring, applications for sharing information across medical practices, tech that would reduce the required number of visits by home health nurses (an odd metric in my opinion). All constrained and limited by the availability of insurance reimbursements that cap, pay, or don't pay for the tech or service.
Worse, every speaker arrived with a depressing statistic: healthcare costs in the US are careening past the $2.6 trillion mark; 1.5 million medication errors are made annually; 20% of the population is accounting for 80% of total costs. And the poor are not only NOT covered by health insurance, they're not taking advantage of all of the online doctor-vetted help and unvetted self-help that is now available. Organization-centric tech automation is certainly occuring, spawning numerous implementations of personal health records and sharing -- the most notable of which is probably the Veterans Administration. And all kinds of sites are springing up (there are 178,000 Yahoo health-related Groups!) where individuals can find new friends who share the same illness or condition. Even Consumer Reports has 4 million subscribers to Consumer Reports Health; 80% of net users look online for health information, and it turns out that all of these sources, even when they are not vetted by experts, do not result in a significant percentage of bad outcomes. Participating vendors were proud to show their products and ranged from the likes of WebMD to www.cardiocom.com to platform players like Microsoft and Google.
But baby boomers are aging and they're taking their obesity and other worrisome issues with them, guaranteeing a burden on society of inadequate services to a population that has multiple obesity-related illnesses. And despite 80% of IBM employees having personal health records (PHRs), the concept of taking your PHR from your primary physician across town to that referred specialist is a pipe dream, if not an outright joke. From what I could detect, for the foreseeable future you should expect to be handed a clipboard and asked to fill out 4 pages of information that will never be shared outside the office, even your permission, with the doctor's favorite surgeon or hospital.
Given that 75% of Americans have cell phones and would sooner lose just about anything other than their phone, you'd think that applications with medication reminders and adverse drug reaction information, like The Pill Phone, at $3.99 per month charge, would be a trend and not an anomaly. No such luck. So the 'Sick-Care' industry continues to talk to itself and to its insurance companies.
Meanwhile, near the very end of the conference, it was refreshing to hear a J&J Ventures executive, Dr. David Gruber, inform the insular and institutional audience that $48 billion is spent annually on alternative medicine and that new products and information-based services might feel necessary and worth spending money for individuals who pay out of pocket -- for everything from herbal remedies to cosmetic surgery to acupuncture. That sum is not counted in the $2.3 trillion. It's not part of the payment to doctors for insurance-covered procedures and treatments. That's out-of-pocket spending to you and me. Especially to the under-insured population of you and me.
I promise that I will rant on about this topic in future posts.