The Prescription for Healthcare? Consumers.

ARLINGTON, VA. — What happens when the healthcare industry's most innovative thinkers come together under one roof to hash out the market's biggest issues and trends? Well, they talk a whole lot about consumers. Although views differed slightly among presenters, several themes seemed to be at play throughput today's consumer-focused keynotes at the Consumer Health Forum.

The most notable theme: Consumers want to call the shots when it comes to their health. Yet there still remains a disconnect between patients and providers. Another issue at stake? Consumers want healthcare to be personalized -- but they are lazy by nature and haven't stepped up to prove that's what they want. Conference presenters this morning addressed ideas under what might be a new umbrella term to some -- Health 3.0. Presenters noted that Health 1.0 was about getting patients informed and Health 2.0 was about making that information interactive with Web 2.0 technology.

Health 3.0, according to keynote presenter and session moderator Jeff Gruen, is all about convergence. Gruen, who heads healthcare services consultancy PRTM, proposed a notion of converged healthcare that comprises three directives:

  1. A continued focus on the consumer in the healthcare landscape.
  2. Commitment to innovation in the delivery system.
  3. An obligation to innovation within reimbursement.

Dana Mead, a partner with venture capitalist firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, presented on what venture capitalists see as at the forefront of healthcare innovation. Mead devoted the most attention to the topics of personalized medicine and healthcare for the iPhone. He pointed to the rapid consumer uptake of the actual device, but said the intriguing stuff lies within the application layer. "The magic is not the iPhone -- it's iTunes," Mead said. "I develop the application…[but] Apple takes care of the distribution, the marketing, and the payment and they don't charge you anything to do that." Mead recognized that mobile applications will not be limited to the iPhone, but he says with Apple's development platform and tremendous market share, it seems like a good place to start.

He pointed to the traction that gaming applications have had in creating platforms on the iPhone. Why can't healthcare providers have similar usable and accessible platforms, he argued. Mead explained the possibilities of an application named something such as iHealth. You click the iHealth icon which opens up to applications that store patients and even their families' health information. The app will be subscription-based and can be integrated into larger systems - such as one that monitors and manages Diabetes care. "Imagine if you had son or daughter [with Diabetes] and you had the ability to remotely monitor blood sugar levels when at school or over night, and could have that as an iPhone platform," Mead said, exemplifying mobile healthcare's potential value. He went on, "What about a traveler's package if you travel a lot? The [app] helps you talk to a doctor from wherever you are in the world and it will get you into a local hospital and get you refills on prescriptions."

Mead said mobile healthcare represents a large chunk of his company's healthcare projects. Yet, with innovation comes challenges, he notes. What's the biggest challenge with innovation? Mead projected that it's in understanding the business model, evaluating its sustainability and questioning -- who's going to be paying for it? That barrier remains for personalized health initiatives, which Mead explained as "the right therapy for the right patient at the right time."

On that note, Dr. Roy Schoenberg President, the chief executive officer of online healthcare firm, American Well, expanded upon the personalized medicine theme in his presentation. He pointed to successful consumer sites such as Expedia, Amazon.com, eBay, iTunes, which are popular because people can find what they want in an easy way - but can also carry out transactions. That's the missing link in personalized healthcare, according to Schoenberg. He advocated the thinking of communication technology over information technology. He went on to describe American Well's vision -- an online health site that connects patients with physicians on a "right now" basis. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Daniel Palestrant presented about Sermo, an online physician site, which looks more akin to Facebook than a healthcare Web site. Sermo connects consumers with answers about healthcare when they need them that very minute.

Later on in the morning, Gruen monitored a panel entitled "The State of the Consumer Aggregators," in which he asked two social media site executives and leading-edge healthcare thinkers about their opinions on healthcare in social media. Jack Barrette, CEO of WEGO Health, an online health portal that relies on key opinion leaders to drive conversation and answer health questions, told attendees that WEGO is 100 percent social media and that he thinks, "Social media's higher calling is [with] health."

Social media forums have made Web site WebMD nothing short of a go-to site for health questions and answers.  Phil Marshal, vice president of product services for WebMD, shared that although the company's reputation is for its information, WebMD hosts 250 employer and health plan portals and at the heart of the company is personal health medical records (PHRs). This lesser-known fact represents WebMD's focus on interconnectivity with consumers. However, he notes, the traction isn't where he'd like it to be.

Barrette agreed. "The PHR is not something consumers seem to be clamoring for," said Barrette said. "They don't understand the value of having the record. The issue is consumer motivation." Earlier in the day, Mead spoke to that point, "The patient is ultimately lazy," he said. Personal health records are a stated goal for many healthcare providers, but adoption is still lacking.

There is a lot at the forefront in the Health 3.0 world. "Are we there yet?" Marshal asked. "No, I'm not satisfied," he said.

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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