Solving Our Health Care Crisis: Does the Answer Lie in Social Media and the Internet?

Health care costs alone account for $2 trillion of our country’s annual spending and are projected to continue to grow at an annual rate of 5.8 percent. With the U.S. national deficit at an all-time high of $1.6 trillion, it’s clear that our current health care system is unsustainable. And yet, despite the increased attention to health care, Americans are not getting healthier. In the past 10 years, one in five people have become overweight, one in three people have become obese, and in 2010, the U.S. spent more than 75 percent of the overall health care spend treating preventable diseases.

One would think these numbers would be enough to shock any policymaker or politician into action, but health care reform is an extremely polarizing issue with many views on the best way to move forward. The reality is that with so much at stake, we need to take a step back from political biases and take a cue from how other industries have adapted to the changing consumer and technological landscapes to successfully drive change.

In today’s consumer market, for example, 85 percent of companies have incorporated social media programs in their daily business operations and there are now more social networking accounts than there are people in the world. Considering the majority of consumers are increasingly looking to these channels for information and to connect with their peers, it makes sense to reach people where they already are. There is a website, mobile app or social networking platform to cater to almost all of our needs, except – to our misfortune – when it comes to effective health care management resources This is one of the core problems with our current health care system.

Most health care communications and interactions remain technical, confusing, time consuming and downright impersonal. Yet consumers both want and expect health information and engagement to be available at the tap of a finger. They want information that is tailored to them and their unique health situation. They want the ability to pose questions and connect with others like them as well as medical professionals in a secure, anonymous environment – and most importantly, they want it real-time. Lastly, to maintain the motivation to reach their health goals and remain active in their own wellbeing, consumers need incentivized solutions that are rewarding and engaging, and that meet them where they already spend their time: on the Internet and on mobile devices.

Similarly, health care providers need innovative solutions that help them move the needle toward healthy outcomes, and more accurate, thorough insight into the lifestyles of their members and patients.

Put simply, the key to change lies applying the same technologies consumers have welcomed into all other aspects of their lives – social networking, search engines, personalization technologies and game mechanics –to drive what has been largely elusive in health care: consumer engagement.

Digital platforms that bring these technologies all under one roof have the ability to create a comprehensive, secure health experience with two-fold results:

1)  A wealth of resources for consumers to get and stay healthy – the ability to track their health and be rewarded for their efforts; access to health professionals and others like them to pose questions and share experiences; a wealth of personalized health information and more – in the places they’re already spending their time. Digital platforms also supplement and complement the patient-to-provider episodic relationship and fill the gaps between brick and mortar doctor visits. This all leads to healthier outcomes.

2) Unparalleled insight for insurance providers into the needs, wants and behaviors of their members, so they can better tailor outreach programs, resources and care. Armed with anonymous, aggregate intelligence around the lifestyle behaviors and health status of their members, they can create targeted messages for specific populations and institute programs that drive cost savings and healthier outcomes.

What’s striking is that we, as consumers, have become so obsessed with being “plugged in” to our peers, our jobs and our favorite brands that we’ve become accustomed to – and demand – instant gratification and immediate results. It’s clear that corporate America has caught on to this shift in the consumer psyche, but why have we been so slow to demand these same technological luxuries when it comes to the very thing that keeps us alive and breathing – our health? Ultimately, amidst the ongoing controversy and debate surrounding health care reform, it’s become more and more evident that we’ll need to allow the consumer to take power over their own health and connect them to their provider through a dynamic, fast, safe and personal medium.

By Henry DePhillips, M.D. is the executive vice president of health care solutions, and chief medical officer of Audax Health

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