Why You Should Care About The Health-Aware, Connected And Cost-Conscious EPatient Of 2015

Back in mid-2007, in the midst of conducting in-depth research and analysis of the evolving digital health landscape, Susannah Fox of the Pew Internet and American Life Project recommended I read a publication co-developed by the late Tom Ferguson, MD, titled ePatients: How They Can Help Us Heal Healthcare. This prophetic white paper introduced many of the digital trends we take for granted today, including the use of the Web and digital tools for health research, the rise of patient-powered social networks and more. 

One defining characteristic of the ePatient outlined in Ferguson’s white paper was that these individuals were prompted by circumstance or inner drive to become proactive stewards of their own care. However, the ePatients described in the publication were a rare breed, as most people were not actively using digital tools to learn about and manage their health. Even today, this is still largely the case, as illustrated by how few people employ technology to track their health status or frequently use mobile health applications. 



While the steady march of technological progress will play a role in changing this dynamic over time, there is another factor that may accelerate uptake of a range of digital tools: Obamacare. When this legislation comes fully online in 2014, the health system will experience a range of changes, including: 

  • Millions of people who previously did not have insurance coverage will start receiving care.

  • Among those with employer-provided insurance, some may see changes in how their coverage is managed. For example, small businesses may give employees lump sum payments and ask them to secure insurance on their own in the individual market. 

  • Other organizations may switch employees to consumer-driven health plans where individuals pay the first $3,000 - $5,000 of their annual medical expenses out of pocket  

These shifts will mean that for some becoming an empowered ePatient will no longer be an option, especially if they have to become more active managers of their care. Of primary concern for many will be how to minimize out of pocket expenses and successfully navigate the health system. 

In this environment, it stands to reason that digital technologies will play an increasingly important role in how people learn about and manage their care. Our ongoing research initiative digihealth pulse is partly focused on forecasting which digital tools people are most likely to turn to. Data we have collected thus far suggests some key technologies ePatients may adopt could include: 

  • Personalized Provider-Powered Health Information Hubs: These are digital properties that help people to get answers to their medical questions from doctors and other health providers free of charge (or at low cost). Having a sense of what treatments may be required (and will be most cost-effective) may help people save money. 

  • Peer-to-Peer “CrowdCounseling” Tools: Technologies that allow people to source, rate and organize peer-produced advice on how to manage care, save money and navigate the evolving health system.

  • Empathetic Technologies: Tools that leverage data derived from a range of sources, including electronic medical records, passive sensing devices and more to predict, prevent and treat illness. This “just-in-time” health information can be delivered on-demand or automatically. 

The Challenges Associated With This New Landscape

By 2015 (if not before), health executives may have to contend with a range of challenges, including: 

  • Reaching Consumers With Different Expectations and Technology Use Patterns: How do you communicate with and persuade consumers (including those from lower income groups) who access health information on the go and may be coping with newly addressed complex health issues? 

  • Communicating Value: Consumers, providers and payers will be seeking to maximize limited health dollars. Health organizations have never been comfortable communicating value, but may have to quickly find ways to convince people that recommended treatments are worth the time and expense. 

  • Embedding Reliable Health Content in Unfamiliar Digital Environments: Via tracking of health content people consume via the Web and social media, we’ve discovered that medical/wellness information is being delivered both in traditional digital spaces (health portals), and non-traditional places such as news sites. As more people start actively managing their care (and entering the system), the breadth and depth of health content sharing and consumption will only increase. Health organizations and providers will have to learn how to succeed in new and unfamiliar digital environments.

The Time to Prepare for the Future is Now 

Have you considered how the changes that will sweep the health system over the next few years will impact you? Are you prepared to meet the digital and informational needs of ePatient 2015? If not, why? 

If you are interested in learning more about the trends that will define the connected patient of the near future, I’m developing a publication on this topic with bestselling author and marketing strategist Rohit Bhargava. Learn more about this book and register to receive a free copy upon its release by clicking here

4 comments about "Why You Should Care About The Health-Aware, Connected And Cost-Conscious EPatient Of 2015".
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  1. Kevin K from Anonymous, April 19, 2013 at 5:42 p.m.

    Once people have to pay attention to healthcare costs and, in many cases, start to "cough up money," the demand for Universal healthcare will explode. Healthcare should not be a money maker for insurance companies, hospitals or for big Pharma.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 19, 2013 at 8:03 p.m.

    A huge challenge is getting people on line, especially older people. Although many 55, 65+ use computers, phone and tablets, it is a very scary ocean for many others. There is also a large female population who rely on their husbands to handle everything who are the same women who will live longer as widows. What is worse is when some people age, they lose their ability to rationalize or to figure any of this out. Alzheimer's and dementia are opponents that always win. Any doubt ? Go try to explain any of this to assistant living and nursing home patients and report back. And how many millions of people with these diseases who are not in financial positions to be in those facilities ? There are so many more pitfalls and other illnesses to prevent sick people to pay attention to their healthcare costs, you could write books. Who is going to be responsible when those people cannot go on line ? The only thing that would work better if there were a one payer system (with controls and limits of course).

  3. e-Patient Dave deBronkart from Society for Participatory Medicine, April 20, 2013 at 4:20 a.m.

    Hey Fard - long time no see!

    We're THRILLED that you're raising awareness of the work of "Doc Tom" Ferguson, whose followers (as I think you know) in 2009 founded the Society for Participatory Medicine. SPM continues to blog at, journal at, and advise on government policy initiatives.

    When you first knew us we were a sleepy little club, but things are rolling now. We've grown to have our first Executive Director, Barbara Kornblau; this year's President is Sarah Krug, who many of your readers may know from her years at Pfizer; our President-Elect is the deservedly notorious Michael Millenson; and so on.

    We'd love to see everyone who's aligned with this work to join in and further develop this movement - as you note, many people (patients, caregivers and providers) aren't aware of what's possible in this area, and we welcome strong hearts, minds and hands in the movement!

  4. Fard Johnmar from Enspektos, LLC, April 22, 2013 at 12:14 p.m.


    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a message re: how things are going with the Society for Participatory Medicine! I'll ping you as we move closer to publishing the book.



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