Let their fingers do the walking through the health care system

View a photo of a typical city street in the 1950s and notice that most men wear hats. Times change and now, according to a study by the Altimeter Group and Definitive Insights that was done for Aetna, a typical street scene these days will show many pedestrians talking into, or fiddling with, a mobile device. According to a recent study by the fiber optics company Comcore, about 234 million people have such a device. They use them to manage their lives and, more and more, want to use them to manage their health care.

“In the past it made sense when we only had one or even a few doctors, when we didn’t move around much, and when there wasn’t really that much information to keep track of, to let the system of doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies manage our health care information,” says the study “The Coming Digital Revolution in Healthcare.” By large majorities, respondents say that having access to their health care is important. They want that access to be convenient and not, for instance, have to wait weeks for a copy of their records. They also want it organized so that it’s easy to use if they want information from multiple providers.

That’s only half the challenge. They also want to be able to share the information with all their providers, if they so choose. Respondents say that would enhance provider ability to deliver care and patient ability to make decisions about care.

Aetna recently launched CarePass to help consumers use applications, called apps when they are on a smartphone, that allow them to do things necessary to better manage their health. The first app available through CarePass, iTriage, allows users to research symptoms, find the provider that best suits their needs, and book an appointment — all from a smartphone.

“I go to the doctor once a year,” says Martha Wofford, Aetna’s vice president for “consumer platform.” “There are maybe 20 minutes where I engage with a provider all year. For me, the activities I do everyday — exercise, diet, and other preventive things — are much more relevant to my health.”

More info leads to better care and care decisions

Consumers want to manage their care through the Web, and want access to that information through their mobile devices. As the study states, “We already check our bank accounts, transfer files, and upload pictures from our smartphone and other mobile devices. Why not be able to access and manage personal health care information from a mobile device?”

Wofford notes the rise of accountable care organizations, which will share some of the insurance risk. “They’ll become increasingly interested in you as a patient,” she says. “Not just whether you are taking your meds, but if you’re a diabetic, or obese, or have other chronic conditions, are you actually following a care plan and working out and eating the right food?”

Who wants to use digital tools for better care?

Note: Data collected via an online survey of 2,000 people taken in February that was representative of the general population of the United States.

Source: “The Coming Digital Revolution in Healthcare,” Altimeter Group and Definitive Insights, March 5, 2012