CNBC drops a rumor about Aetna providing Apple Watches to their members... the internet responds, some in favor of a “free” Apple watch, others skeptical about the state of their personal health data and railing against the “evil health insurance industry” for raising premiums for members who don’t get enough steps in.
Whether rumor or real, it compelled me to consider why do we, as consumers of healthcare, get so riled up about our healthcare data? We demand access to it (which I support) and we demand both higher standards and better care from our healthcare providers, but we don’t want to cross a certain line when it comes to sharing data that could improve our health and wellness. It’s curious really because, from my perspective, the internet already knows everything about you.
The Internet of You
Are you one of the internet citizens that (like me) have daisy-chained their Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat/Amazon/Gmail and have location-tracking enabled on all their devices? Because if you are, based on the data in those apps alone, the internet (and therefore advanced digital marketing automation) knows pretty much everything about you—Lysol is selling you disinfectant spray based on what you searched for on WebMD; Facebook is showing you advertisements based on your posts and comments; Google is suggesting products based on your Amazon search history.
Truth is, you're already being targeted based on your values, personality, interests, and behaviors which are all derived from your purchase history, browser history, and recent activity. Based on how freely people throw around opinions, ideas, and personal info online, why are we so upset at the concept of an insurance company providing us with a tool that is designed to positively influence end-user behavior?
As I’ve said before, health insurance companies aren’t inherently evil. The business model over the years has definitely evolved to maximize profit, and we're addressing that as an industry right now; however, health insurance companies are not “just” payers footing the bill—they employ thousands of care providers who interact with members every day.
We’re living in a world of value-based care concerned with population health. If your health insurance company can provide you with a tool that helps you understand your actions, motivate positive behavior changes, or helps you control your diabetes, weight management, or COPD, why shouldn’t they do that? Driving behavior is more powerful than financially punishing people for not taking enough steps. We need to get comfortable with the fact that data access isn’t about denying coverage anymore, it's is about changing the model—and ultimately, decreasing the cost of care will allow health insurance companies to focus on other initiatives like improving the member experience.
The Value of Connectivity
A number of groups are already encouraging wearables and device data. UnitedHealth made headlines last March when they announced a wearable device coverage plan, and Humana jumped on the train as well; BCBS Tennessee promotes wellness via connected apps like HealthKit and FitBit. They’ve empowered their members to add wellness apps to their portal and incentivize them to hit their step goals and change other negative behaviors, and members can earn free screenings or gift cards by sharing this type of information.
The next thing we need to do is connect the dots and think about what we could do in a world of connected Payers, Providers, and Patients: you could prove medication adherence based on the actual script that your doctor wrote, or track your blood sugar once Apple releases those rumored glucose sensors, or receive push coupons for hummus and veggies (instead of potato chips) while you’re at Walgreens to encourage smarter snacking.
Now take it a step further—what if instead of working off a list of patients with daiabtes, Care Coordinators had access to this data in real time and were able to proactively reach out to the most at-risk patients in real time? The only way this works is if we share data across parties in a common and consistent way. We can’t blow up healthcare in the US as we know it and start over.
Instead of pointing fingers and declaring the evils of healthcare as an industry, let’s have a frank conversation about the role we as patients have in our own healthcare. Too many disparate groups (Payers and Providers) are trying to solve the same problems, and everyone is only working with a small percentage of the data. As patients, we can do our part by becoming active participants in our own health and sharing data freely across those who are responsible for caring for us, whether we’re sick or well.
I absolutely believe that as patients, we have a right to our medical records and privacy, and to choose what to share. All I'm saying is consider keeping an open mind when it comes to data sharing. The next time you demand access to your health record but aren’t willing to share your step count with your insurance company, just remember, the internet probably already knows more about you than your own doctor.
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