An experienced healthcare management consultant, David Dimond, knows the level of disruption that healthcare has been facing for the past few years and acknowledges that technology represents the best enabler of these necessary changes: "IT is the catalyst, not the constraint."
Searching, integrating and sharing information are the three consumer needs where technology can help drive innovation and adapt communications. In the 15 years since the first Direct-To-Consumer pharmaceutical ad hit the marketing world, consumers have radically changed the way they handle their own healthcare. Search engines and YouTube have become the first stop for triage. Google Health has placed medical record ownership in the patients' own hands. Communities like PatientsLikeMe are creating bonds among patients suffering from similar conditions. To borrow a phrase from Microsoft Health Innovation Lab's Director Mike Gillam, we are moving to the age of "health in the cloud."
People are spending a tremendous amount of time in a never-ending search for information about all-things-healthcare, from treatments to diagnoses to wellness tips. Indeed, this is supported by a Pharma Connect Study that MPG conducted last year of the most influential media touch points; respondents ranked informative websites about a specific disease as the second-most important source of information (45%), after a discussion with a physician.
Information integration is very much driven by consumers' wish for simplicity, as well as the industry's desire to improve healthcare efficiency. We see this changing through corporate innovations like Google Health and Microsoft Health Vault, as well as by the $27 billion investment the U.S. government has set aside to develop healthcare IT over the next 10 years. This will lead to major progress in doctors' collaboration, the end of repetitive tests and better cost-effectiveness as test results can be shared among many healthcare providers.
Increasingly, patients are sharing information, talking to other patients, and exchanging information with various specialists, as well as specialists communicating more often directly among themselves. Some brands have already started to recognize this and respond accordingly. For example, the HPV vaccine brand, Gardasil, has collected 100,000 fans on Facebook. The diabetes products line, OneTouch, has fostered an online community of hundreds of thousands people with diabetes. Weight-loss pill Alli offers guidance for an entire lifestyle. This "Nike+ization" of healthcare is full of opportunities for healthcare providers if they manage to become part of the conversation. It could help rebuild trust among patients, doctors and pharma companies.
And even then, there is still so much more technology and communications could enable: remote access to healthcare with providers like American Well, epidemic tracking with Google Flu Trends, the MIT New Media Medicine's research on "collective discovery" by harnessing the massive collection of patients' "everyday experiments"...
These technologies and innovation are here for the taking. The question then becomes -- to what extent will regulatory challenges, privacy requirements and costs hold back this evolution?