Why Healthcare’s Future Is About Much More Than Obamacare

Currently, there’s a lot of sound and fury about healthcare in the United States. Much of it is focused on the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. The Act has been the law of the land for years now. Yet, because many of its key provisions were not affecting Americans directly, it was a subject of conversation, but it had little direct impact on most people.Fast-forward to today and Obamacare is very much on people’s minds. In October, HealthCare.gov launched and quickly crashed. Millions of people tried to purchase health insurance using the platform, but were unable to. Even worse, Healthcare.gov had serious security issues that may have exposed early users’ private health information to hackers.For many, Obamacare, and its emphasis on requiring businesses and individuals to purchase insurance, represents the future of healthcare in America. But, while Obamacare is certainly important, there are many innovators, government officials and organizations working to transform health and medical care in significant ways. Although this work is receiving limited press, paying close attention to it is essential if you want to understand what the future of healthcare will really look like both in the United States and around the world. Below I’ll focus on three critical areas where scientific research, data and computing power are combining to rapidly change how people think about, receive and deliver care in the future. Many experts categorize the topics and trends I’ll discuss below in the areas health information technology, Health 2.0 and digital health.GENETICSIn mid-2013, Angelina Jolie published an essay in the New York Times announcing that she decided to have her breasts removed based on a genetic test indicating she was at high risk of developing breast cancer in the future. Jolie’s essay ignited a debate about whether it is appropriate to undergo radical surgery to reduce the odds of potentially developing or contracting a disease.More recently, the personal genetic testing company 23andMe further raised the profile of genetics when it started offering its DNA testing kits for $99 and launched a wide-scale advertising campaign promoting its products. Soon after the campaign was launched, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a letter to 23andMe asking it to stop marketing its testing kits because of questions about whether its test results were accurate, could cause people to undergo unnecessary medical procedures, or stop taking medications.Yet, while Jolie’s experience with genetic testing and the controversy surrounding 23andMe have attracted a great deal of media coverage, people have paid less attention to the other ways genetics will transform health and medical care. For example, IBM has predicted that genetic information will be used to help doctors diagnose disease, select medications and more. A combination of powerful computers and better DNA analysis techniques will make this possible in the near future.For those interested in learning more about how genetics will influence how we think about our individual health, Thomas Goetz’s “The Decision Tree” provides an engaging and non-technical introduction to the topic along with insights about how genetic testing will influence how we manage our health in the near future. Another book focusing on this subject is Dr. Eric Topol’s “The Creative Destruction of Medicine.”BIG DATAData is fast becoming the engine that fuels the health economy. A range of new companies, governments, software developers and even individual physicians are collecting vast amounts of information, or “Big Data” about how people manage their health, such as if they are taking medications as prescribed, exercising and more.Now, powerful computers, such as IBM’s Watson, are helping people to use health data in a range of ways, including:
Helping doctors pick medications that are more likely to work in individual patients
Proactively contacting people who are at risk of entering a life-threatening depressive episode so that patients can receive the help they need
Despite the increasing importance of data in health, few people have carefully considered how this information will be used, or misused. Will data be used to “nudge” us to eat healthier, or take our medications? Or, will companies use this information to restrict our ability to purchase certain types of insurance?Those interested in learning more about the role data is playing in our lives, including health should read Eric Siegel’s “Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die.”THE SOCIAL WEBSusannah Fox, of the Pew Research Center, has called the Web and social media sites like Facebook, some of the most important innovations in health. While future digital health trends such as genetics and Big Data get a lot of attention, the simple act of enabling people to talk with each other is both transformative and highly important.Today, in the United States and around the world, people are being asked to take more responsibility for their care – both financially and in terms of engaging with doctors and other healthcare providers. Traditionally, we have focused on how people use the Web as an information source. Currently, and increasingly in future years, the Internet will become a lot more important. For example:
People are actively using the Web to provide each other with emotional and moral support, which is especially important for caregivers and those navigating the new health insurance landscape (i.e., Obamacare)
Many are actively using the Web to find less expensive care, higher quality doctors and more
Patients are using digital health technologies (the Web, social networks, mobile devices and more) to start, fund and even conduct their own medical research
It’s important to remember that the future of healthcare is about much more than who is paying for it. Hopefully this guide will help you anticipate some of the important changes to come in healthcare in the United States and around the world.