Here at International CES there is an overwhelming host of apps and devices designed to improve specific aspects of our health and wellbeing. So it's easy to forget sometimes that the fundamental power behind this tech is information, or data. Our data. The most personal data there is: how our bodies are functioning.
At CES Digital Health Summit, Newsweek columnist Kevin Maney interviews David Schlanger, CEO of WebMD, one of the largest sources of medical data accessible to DIY health consumers. What is responsible for the onslaught of DIY health platforms? What is the best way to get digital health to work for the consumer to make his or her healthy choices easier? Who owns the medical data once it's out there? How is consumer privacy protected? Schlanger answers these questions using WebMD as an example.
WebMD, founded in 1996, plays an enormous role today in how consumers understand their own health. What's responsible for pushing WebMD into the center stage of DIY health? Mainly the transformative nature of healthcare today, says Schlanger. The old relationship between patient and physician is no longer the norm, and there's no end to what patients already know before going into the exam room. Patients are smart consumers today, and it's no secret that they're relying less on their doctors for information. The monetary burdens brought on by expensive procedures and the inflation of healthcare costs forced consumers to think strategically.
"They don't just want the right clinical outcome, they want the right clinical outcome at the right price," says Schlanger. As a result, patients gradually moved away from the traditional model of physician-patient relationships. To meet the paradigm shift, treatments needed to move out of the limiting exam room. For example, pharmaceutical companies have started to provide support beyond just pills; they now create patient management systems to meet all sorts of needs. The government makes it easier for patients to get electronic access to medical records, allowing companies to tailor their medicines to their consumers.
— DigitalHealthSummit (@dhsummit) January 7, 2015
But how is the data kept private? Today, more so than ever before, the penetrability of private information is something everyone is keenly aware of, and the best way of striving for security is for users to understand websites and their policies. WebMD, Schlanger says, takes its consumers' trust very seriously, but he stresses that consumers using data to manage their health must put a conscious effort into understanding a site's policies and knowing when a site has the consumers' best interests in mind.
The tricky part that often comes into play is ownership. When medical data is shared, who owns it? Some doctors say they own it, while patients say they own it. WebMD agrees with the latter, vouching for the users' complete ownership and control of their own data.
Where does Schlanger see the physician-patient relationship going in ten years? While he firmly stands by digital health and treatment plans that focus beyond the exam room, he acknowledges that many people aren't yet digitized and healthcare is still a very fragmented field. It's the last sector to catch up with digital times, he believes.
But in a decade the paradigm will shift even more than it already has, and digital communication and care management will become mainstream, bringing in the "next-generation of consumer engagement" in personal health.