The 22nd Century Patient…Today

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the millennial patient, the person who is permanently connected to his/her health data. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of researching the many developments that health care has seen since the start of the new millenium. While the path is still unpaved, and the roadmap still uncharted, the direction is very clear: the future of health care will include the patient as a major decision maker and major player in health care delivery.

Most people aware of the ePatient movement know that an ePatient is 4 things: Empowered, Engaged, Equipped and Enabled. The future patient (currently called the ePatient) will have the tools necessary to be actively focused on his/her health. Below is my vision of how these four characteristics (empowered, engaged, equipped, enabled) will be accomplished through technology and social innovation:

Ever since the emergence of modern-day medicine, the healer-patient relationship has not seen much change. The patient seeks medical advice from the healer and follows the healer’s instructions carefully. This trust-based relationship is, most often, a one-way street, where the physician gives advice and the patient follows it. The emergence of new technology will empower the patient to be a key decision maker, and will turn this one-way street into a multi-channel communication system.

The Internet has probably played the most important role in empowering patients across the globe. With online patient communities flowering left and right, resources like WebMD and Patients Like Me, and self-tracking tools like Quantified Self, today’s patient is much more aware of their condition than anytime before. The further dissemination of such communities will build upon this patient movement and unleash the vast amount of available knowledge, making it available at patient’s fingertips.

The future of health care will include online communities moderated by inter-disciplinary teams of medical professionals and patients alike. Access to targeted health care knowledge will be easier and faster than doing a google search. The humble RSS feed reader will become a self-sufficient autonomous knowledge machine aimed at providing state-of-the-art, up-to-date information on a patient’s condition in real-time.

Health information networks and patient portals will aggregate data, allowing for the development of powerful and accurate algorithms to predict outcomes, prevent disease and promote healthy lifestyles. These algorithms will not only allow patients to predict their health, but it will allow providers to make decisions truly based on the best science available. Patient outcomes will be based on hard numbers, and less on recollection.

The new wave of communication technologies will allow for the development of cheap, easy-to-make devices that will allow consumers to keep accurate track of vital signs and symptoms. These accessories will be integrated in clothing and in our ever-day accessories. Syncing wirelessly and automatically, these devices will monitor our biological functions without rest. Based on algorithms built from the ever-growing pool of health data, health technologies will automatically warn us of potential illnesses even before symptoms occur. A potential cardiac arrest will be predicted far before loss of consciousness, allowing patients to seek prompt medical care.

Our cellphones will become our lifelines to health. New technologies will allow us to perform self-assessments prior to arriving to doctor appointments and routine exams will be performed remotely. Empowered by new technology, the future patient will become an independent player in the health care delivery process. By keeping informed and engaged, patients will form closely-knit relationships with their healers, where information will be shared on both ends of the spectrum. Health will become a crowdsourced commodity, providing doctors with accurate information and patients with definitive treatments.

While all of this may seem ages away, work on some of these ideas has already begun. Companies like Fitbit and Withings have already started mass producing devices that wirelessly sync information about our bodies. Prediction algorithms are already in development with 100Plus taking advantage of millions of patient records. Telemedicine already plays an important part in providing health care to remote areas and smartphones already give us a non-stop connection to the grid.

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