Gevik Nalbandian

Reimagining consumer empowerment in healthcare starts with digital identity

June 3, 2021

doctor and patient talking

How can we as an industry improve data sharing and eliminate paper-based forms that individuals routinely fill out when they seek care? What level of pain or loss of capital is required to force institutions to eradicate misidentification of patients? How can we free ourselves from the shackles that healthcare has on our data?  

We have been filling out paperwork at doctor’s offices for decades. Despite America’s massive effort and $35 billion investment in EHRs, the current state of our nation’s health system is a failure. Yet technology isn’t the problem. The issue stems from the notion that we—as an institution or vendor—must hold onto the data. Moreover, no amount of money being spent purchasing EHRs will help create 100% accurate patient matching or remove the need to fill out forms. As an industry, we need a health system that serves patients instead of patients serving the system. 

Consumerization of healthcare is not new. At a recent check-up, my doctor’s office had a sign on their front desk asking customers to review them on Yelp. Yelp is a free app that allows consumers to review bars, restaurants, beauty salons, entertainment venues, etc. But now doctors and dentists are getting into the game. Is this a shift? Are providers really asking patients to rate their experience? 

How did this happen? If Yelp can help consumers find a good place for fish tacos or help them find a reputable service provider, could it also allow them to manage their own medical data? But why and how? The why is simple: Centrally managed data is inaccurate and very hard to share. Even with the new ONC Information Blocking Rule in place, fluid data exchange and patient consent are a significant challenge. However, easily accessible and sharable data under the control of the consumer could reduce friction, boost accuracy, and improve portability. But how? How could healthcare make it mainstream for consumers to want to keep their information, maintain it, and possibly share it? 

It’s psychological. When people think of doctors and hospitals, they only think of them as a necessary evil (it’s rare to find a friend looking forward to their doctor’s appointment). Not many wake up in the morning thinking, I miss my doctor. I want to visit him or her this week. We generally visit the doctor or the hospital when we are sick or require a procedure. If we cannot make a fundamental shift in this notion, consumers will never feel incentivized to maintain or share their health data. Consumers need to see the intrinsic benefit of sharing. 

But what if there was a way to entice consumers to do so? What if there was real value to being and staying healthy? What if it was trendy, like visiting an exclusive restaurant? What if social media had as many posts and likes of consumers’ healthy habits or life-changing visits with a doctor as it did photos of a grilled salmon with a side of asparagus overlooking the beach at Geoffrey’s in Malibu? 

Apple Watch, Fitbit and other wearables have already impacted how consumers become fit and stay healthy. I, like others, also add a few key pieces of information in the Emergency (break-the-glass) section of my Apple iPhone (my meds, weight, height, allergies, etc.). My iPhone also has other pieces of information that I keep and maintain. Other wearables have similar features. Even my 80-year-old father keeps track of his health and physical activity data. But the tie between my Apple watch, iPhone, and the forms I fill out at the doctor’s office is missing because there is sluggish motivation among providers and vendors to make patient data accessible or sharable. Value-based care should have been the impetus but thus far continues to lag. 

Is money the only catalyst to innovate? Is popularity important? Does something need to become fashionable to have a large following? If you think about how the iPod was created, you’ll notice it was based on a need that the general population did not know they wanted. It allowed consumers to take all their music with them. Then came the Apple iPhone and consolidated everything into one device: phone, email, music, videos and an app ecosystem. Apply that to healthcare, and we might start to understand what is truly missing is not technology. What is missing is an ecosystem that makes it fashionable to share your experience and your data, and to further build upon. Ecosystems are vital for user adoption, and to thrive, must be fun, engaging, and drive basic human needs: exhilaration followed by function. A cross section of these concepts are the building blocks for the main themes of this blog: 

  • Indisputable and 100% accurate identity on the consumer’s terms 
  • Real-time, password-free ways to share and exchange health data 
  • Utilization of healthy lifestyles to drive adoption 
  • Better consumer experiences when visiting or searching for providers of care 

Can we do this? Do we have the will? I believe we do. Watch this space. It will be sizzling hot in the months to come. 

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