Not long ago, consumers could access health information about as easily as they could access plutonium. This is changing rapidly in the information age. As a result, consumers—rather than doctors, government, insurers, hospitals, or healthcare companies—will own the Healthcare Century. Any healthcare institution that ignores this trend does so at its peril.
Before the information age, consumers were almost entirely beholden to their physicians for information about health and disease. Now, consumers increasingly educate themselves using the Internet to learn about their health, illnesses, and symptoms. Every day, the patient-doctor relationship becomes more of a partnership as patients come up the learning curve.
Previously, the system kept you from your test results until a doctor had time to interpret it for you. Now, mobile health innovations not only allow consumers and caregivers to obtain more data about the body, they also making such data obtainable under consumer control rather than under the control of the healthcare system. Such real-time, self-gathered health data may help the informed healthcare consumer keep doctors away.
Until recently, patients were asked to participate in clinical trials about which they knew very little. They underwent therapies that they could not independently research. Informed consent was not very truly informed, and patients were expected to trust the system—a concession of power to experts who might harbor biases or misaligned incentives. In the social media age, consumers are taking back some of that power by tapping into online communities and FDA clinical trial sites to gather additional information.
Pricing and performance opacity has long been the norm in healthcare. Stories about the variation in what hospitals charge different patients for the same treatment were once merely anecdotal. Consumers now share their medical bills online, and healthcare pricing data is being aggregated to create transparency for consumers. Similarly, consumers share their performance reviews of doctors and hospitals.
Consumers are not only empowering themselves through information about health but also by becoming participants in health innovation. Patient groups such as the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation directly fund and develop novel therapies that benefit patients in partnership with industry. The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act established The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, which enables patients to become directly involved in improving healthcare research and outcomes.
Information is power, and a tectonic power shift is catalyzing a revolution in healthcare as information becomes demystified and liberated to consumers. The Gutenberg press liberated the printed word and the human mind, spawning an unprecedented era of human progress. As consumers take control of the future of healthcare, an unprecedented era of medical progress will soon be upon us.