Many people believe the healthcare system in the United States at the moment is, in a word, flawed. In addition to middling levels of effectiveness, the US also claims the top spot in overall healthcare cost. According to The Journal of Health Affairs, an average American can expect to pay over $10,000 per year in health care costs–about $2000 more expensive than it was in 2015 and a whopping 2.5 times as much as any other nation.
While politicians and policy makers continue to debate cost-cutting changes to our system that may or may not come to fruition, the simpler solution for high healthcare costs could be in all of our pockets right now: technology.
Healthcare is currently in the midst of a digital revolution of sorts–the mobile healthcare app market, pieces of wearable tech, and even the number of doctors and other medical professionals who are embracing digital health is growing substantially in recent years.
Digitization of healthcare practices represent modern advancements that improve convenience, ease of access, accuracy, and return power back to the consumer, but how has the ultimate cost of healthcare been affected?
Digital healthcare advances represent a stride forward technologically, closing the doctor-patient gap considerably. Allowing patients to connect digitally, monitor and even control some facets of their personal healthcare from home can be connected directly to a reduction in costs. Conditions that don’t require a doctor’s visit–for example a diagnosis of Pink Eye–can be diagnosed virtually as digital health technologies continue to improve, thus saving patients money on copays and visits (in addition to the opportunity cost-savings of the necessary time/travel).
Remote management of more chronic conditions is becoming not only a reality, but a very well-orchestrated one at that. If even half of standard doctor’s visits (not counting Emergency Room, etc.) were to be done via videoconference, savings of almost $200 per visit aren’t out of the question. According to a study done by David Roman and Kyle Conlee and posted on the Internet of Things, savings incurred by prioritizing telehealth advancements could exceed $100 billion across America.
The so-called “lifestyle diseases” that fall under the chronic conditions label can also be curbed to a degree via digital health advancements. Though they may not be the first things that come to mind when you think about healthcare, workout apps have been shown to motivate users to stay in shape, diet properly and be more mindful of their overall health and wellbeing. These actions help to reduce the risk of chronic debilitating conditions like heart disease and stroke–conditions that are responsible for a huge chunk of overall healthcare costs. If digital health advancements are able to reduce this risk, a similar reduction in healthcare costs might be anticipated.
The question that still remains on the subject of digital health and cost focuses not on the cost of healthcare, but on the cost of the digital devices. The wide income gap in America presents a similarly large device gap–while smartphones are fairly common today, lower income adults who struggle to pay for medical care could very well struggle to pay for the very devices that seek to reduce healthcare costs. Research by Pew in 2015 indicated that 64% of US adults owned a smartphone, however that number drops to 50% when only those making $30,000 or less are considered.
Over time, the cost of most every piece of consumer technology drops as production and manufacturing are streamlined and competition emerges, driving lower prices and increasing availability. As digitization continues to forge its way into the healthcare sector, the costs associated with these digital health initiatives will inevitably drop as well.
While advancements in both healthcare and the digitization of the industry continue to improve, cost reduction seems to be on the horizon, showing that the digital health revolution is far more than just a fad.