‘The Democratization of Healthcare’ is an emerging topic referencing the knowledge-driven power in medicine and its inevitable shift from the doctor to the patient. This fundamental transition provides the masses access to their own health information like never before and puts them more and more in the driver’s seat. This post outlines a few real-life examples that ended poorly, to say the least, as a direct result of the fragmented healthcare system, along with the future possibilities that can come with industry evolutions.
Author and medical professional, Eric Topol speaks extensively about what this transition might mean for the future of medicine in his book, The Patient Will See You Now. He notes that MDs will no longer be considered ‘medical deities’, but rather professionals with whom patients will consult to get the proper treatment on the path of least resistance. His point is that giving patients access to their health data and the information necessary to educate themselves is key because afterall, who has a higher interest in an individual’s health, than the individual himself?
Certainly, EHRs and the digitization of health records brought on by the Affordable Care Act help doctors know more about patients in real time, but large gaps still exist in health and insurance data connectivity. Late last year, one Wisconsin woman went into cardiac arrest and was taken to a hospital in Madison. That hospital she was brought to was out of her insurance network, while another in-network hospital was only three blocks away. Now, at the age of 30, instead of planning her wedding, this woman is frantically scouring the Internet for solutions to her $50,000+ of bankruptcy-inducing medical bills (and that’s after a near-90% reduction in fees). The most troubling part is that had she been taken to the other hospital, her out of pocket cost would have been just 3%, or about $1,500.
Similarly, in his book, Topol mentions a recent incident with his 92-year-old mother-in-law. During a routine hospital visit, she was experiencing low, but not alarmingly low, blood pressure. Further lab results showed low, but again not scarily low, sodium levels. She was then checked into the hospital - perhaps, Topol thinks, just because she happened to be there - and prescribed a high sodium intravenous infusion. The following day - yes, they advised an overnight stay - they opted to give her a subcutaneous heparin injection because they were worried an elderly woman lying in bed might be at risk for a blood clot. It just so happened that Topol was on the phone with his wife while this conversation took place. He frantically told her to stop the injection because his mother-in-law was taking another blood thinner for stroke risk reduction for her underlying atrial fibrillation arrhythmia. The heparin injection could and likely would have killed her. The mistake was avoided - but just barely and only because of Topol’s timing, medical background and personal knowledge of the patient. To cap off the experience and price tag, the patient was then required to stay another night and because of hospital back ups, was not released until later the following afternoon.
These are just two of countless tales featuring the disconnected systems and lack of information access in healthcare. Imagine what might have happened if there was some way for the on-scene EMTs to access the Wisconsin woman’s records and insurance information. They could and would have re-routed the three blocks to accommodate her network or better yet, the GPS would have automatically registered her information and mapped their route accordingly. She also would have avoided bankruptcy at the age of 30. Similarly, if Topol’s mother-in-law, or perhaps daughter, had access to her health records, she or her doctor would have made sure her recent prescription addition was updated in the system. Pre-heparin injection, the docs would have been notified of the lethal mix and avoided the mistake.
The technology to turn these statements into realities exists. From a drastic drop in medical error and certainly avoidable death, to a plummet in costs for both the patient and the hospital, these mistakes can and should be reduced drastically.
As mentioned above, EHRs will be considered standard protocol by the end of this year and that is a huge feat in itself; but that doesn’t mean your health records are your own or that everything from childhood immunizations to current prescriptions exist in the cloud - yet. We have a ways to go before cloud-based, real-time medical data access is the norm but digital health technology is rapidly advancing and aggressively fighting its way into new and existing systems alike to make the healthcare experience better for everyone.
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Tags: Dev, Health Innovation, Healthcare consumerism, Providers