Individualization is absolutely driving current consumer trends, but American healthcare is falling behind the times. This isn’t because healthcare cannot be personalized, but because of a web of outdated assumptions and policies holding healthcare innovation back from reaching its full potential.
Todd Rose, a high school dropout and Harvard professor, is an expert in harnessing individualization to achieve success. In his book Dark Horse, he writes how the United States is exiting the “Age of Standardization” and entering “the Age of Personalization”.
As he explains, the marketplace was once characterized by economizing factory work – a drive for sameness to appeal to the average consumer. But the boom of new technologies such as the iPhone and social media has enabled younger generations to have a more customized consumer experience.
Despite increased spending in healthcare, American healthcare outcomes have not improved much over the last several decades. In the United States, healthcare spending accounts for nearly one-fifth of the GDP.
So why does spending continue to grow without improved outcomes? Perhaps it is because individuality matters.
When you take a handful of biomarkers such as age, height, or blood type, no one is perfectly average in every category. We all have “jagged profiles” and the perfectly average person does not exist. Therefore, in healthcare, we cannot treat every patient like an average patient because no one is truly average.
The typical doctor’s approach to diet recommendation illustrates the underlying problem with the assumption of average. If you go to a doctor, she will likely recommend the healthy diet best for the “typical” American – eating vegetables and fruit, lots of water, grains, and proteins. Because of the methodology, the doctor will not automatically perceive food sensitivities. And without DNA testing, a doctor would never know whether an individual has the unique DNA allele that prevents proper metabolization of caffeine, which increases the risk for heart attacks.
Many are familiar with the method of discovering any underlying or potential diet issues unique to the individual. A doctor would order the blood test, the patient would receive the test offsite, the test would then be sent to the doctor, and the doctor would interpret and relay the results to the patient.
Not only is that method inconvenient for everyone involved, but – this is key – the test results never touch the patient’s hands. Unless you happen to live in the state of New Hampshire, your doctor owns your health records, not you. Due to a tangle of laws protecting hospital interests, most American patients cannot easily access their records.
If you want to obtain your records or transfer them to another medical office, it will be costly and inconvenient. Some offices still use fax machines to transfer information, and records often get lost.
Imagine a world where your unique biomarkers, DNA analysis, blood test results, or hormone tracking were accessible from your phone. What if sending your health data to the doctor for her interpretation was as simple as airdropping a file? It would totally transform and personalize the general check-up experience. Ultimately, through individualization, healthcare recommendations would be more effective at improving overall health outcomes.
Taking a cue from Gen Z’s and Millennials’ desire for a customized approach to everything, some innovative healthcare companies have attempted to “get around” the standard model of record ownership.
Take Everlywell for example. For just under $300, the company can mail a blood test that will check allergies for over 200 foods. The company offers other tests such as metabolism and thyroid tests.
Another great example is the Flo app where women can keep a daily log of their menstrual cycle and mental health symptoms. The app uses the information to make suggestions for what the true fertility window looks like for that individual.
Unfortunately, many doctors will not take the results from such companies into fair consideration when treating a patient because of the doctor’s preference for relying on their third-party labs. As more companies like Everlywell or Flo arise, this could eventually lead to patients foregoing professional health opinions altogether – which would not be for the best.
Fixing our laws prohibiting patient ownership of medical records would tackle unhelpful assumptions held by medical professionals, enable patients to receive personalized care, and encourage more innovative healthcare solutions to arise.
McKenzie Richards is a Policy Associate at the Pacific Research Institute.